Working to save endangered bird

Monday September 04, 2017 Written by Published in Environment
Apii Nikao students and staff pictured with Liam Kokaua and Alanna Smith following an exciting field trip into the TCA. Apii Nikao students and staff pictured with Liam Kokaua and Alanna Smith following an exciting field trip into the TCA.

It is that time of the year again where the Department of Conservation (DoC) team from New Zealand conducts an annual kakerori banding exercise within the Takitumu Conservation Area (TCA).


The TCA is the last stronghold for the kakerori bird, also known as the Rarotongan Flycatcher. Back in 1989, the kakerori was named one of the 10 rarest birds in the world as it was down to a population of just 29.

These dwindling numbers were a result of predation by the introduced ship rat which feeds on kakerori eggs, chicks and mother birds. Fortunately, the local team from the TCA which includes Lynda Nia, Edward Saul, and Ian Karika, and the team from DoC - among many others, were able to put together a conservation plan that controls rat populations to the point where the kakerori were able to maintain a stable population.

Thanks to these efforts, their numbers are now around 400 on Rarotonga, along with a safety population of 150 on Atiu. The rat baiting is conducted by TCA staff twice annually, with one round of baiting during the month of May and another in late August or early September to correspond with the kakerori breeding season.

For the third year now, Te Ipukarea Society project officers Liam Kokaua and Alanna Smith joined DoC staff Hugh Robertson and Lynn Adams to learn more about the kakerori banding work and the kakerori census that is done every two years (this year is a census year).

Banding the birds means first setting a mist net, which is a long net nearly invisible to the naked eye, then using kakerori audio recordings to lure the curious birds into the net.

Once the birds are caught, small, lightweight bands are attached around the bird’s legs. There are usually four colours and they allow for easy identification of the bird for the rest of its life. During banding a few feathers are plucked for DNA analysis and the birds are also weighed and measured to add to our existing scientific data about kakerori.

The rat poison used within the TCA, known as Talon, is placed in plastic cylinders around 50 metres apart from one another across the meandering TCA tracks. Each baiting exercise takes about two weeks to complete.

The Kakerori census involves having a good ear for the birds’ call. Once you have spotted a bird, you then have to determine whether it is banded or not. If the bird is unbanded, the DoC staff may return to try and band it once the census is completed.

Some interesting facts about the kakerori: For the first three years of their life, they are bright orange, turning to grey by the fourth year. Their bills also change colour between year one and two, so you can tell quite easily whether a kakerori is one, two, three or four years old, or older. Also, the oldest kakeori is known to have been at least 24 years old, which is a very long lifespan for a small bird.

Apii Te Uki Ou and Apii Nikao have recently become involved with learning more about the TCA and the conservation efforts currently being implemented. Smith and Kokaua were happy to be able to assist with leading these students around the conservation area and say it was great to see some up-and-coming conservation rangers amongst them.

TIS would like to thank Hugh and Lynn for taking on this awesome capacity building opportunity year after year. We also commend the work carried out by Ed Saul, Lynda Nia, Ian Karika, Ana Tiraa, Mataiti Mataiti and many others towards the recovery of the kakerori and their commitment to the conservation work of the TCA over the years.

            - Release/ CS

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