Subantarctic teal include the Auckland Island teal, and the distinctly different Campbell Island species, which is one of the world's rarest ducks.
Few people have ever seen these small, dark brown ducks in the wild. They are mainly nocturnal, and are very secretive. Although they are flightless they make very good speed by running rapidly across the ground at the first sign of danger.
Campbell Island teal
Each of the two species has a different conservation status. In 1992 the Campbell Island teal was listed as critically endangered, and the Auckland Island teal was listed as endangered.
The outlook for the Campbell Island species in particular looked very bleak, so a Department of Conservation Recovery Plan was actioned. This plan contains different priorities for each species.
Thankfully there has been some fantastic progress made with captive breeding programmes during the past few years, and the population has increased to a healthier level.
Auckland Island teal
The islands that subantartic teal inhabit are nature reserves. Auckland Island teal remain on several small islands and islets in the Auckland Island group.
They occupy a wide range of habitats including, tidal zones, freshwater streams and pools and tussock grassland. They nest at the base of sedges, in clumps of fern or beneath logs.
In 2004 Campbell Island welcomed home one of its original inhabitants the Campbell Island teal. The teal, thanks to a successful 20-year recovery programme, are now recolonising their former home of their own accord following three releases of 159 captive breed teal.
Listen to or download a recording of Auckland Island teal song.
Subantarctic teal sitting on a rock,
Auckland Island teal song (MP3, 492K)
30 second recording of Auckland Island teal song.
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Auckland Island teal, Enderby Island
Causes of decline
Both species declined as a result of the impacts of introduced mammals. These mammals arrived with propel visiting the islands. Introduced predators such as cats and rats have eliminated teal from many areas of their former range with the island groups.
Accidental introduction of predators, such as rats, to teal habitats would result in the extinction of the Campbell Island teal and cause local extinctions of Auckland Island populations.
The isolation of the subantarctic islands means both species, the Auckland Island teal and Campbell Island teal, are vulnerable to the introduction of disease which would have a catastrophic effect.
DOC's work with subantarctic teal
Recent conservation efforts
The third release of the Campbell Island teal back onto Campbell Island in August 2006 marked the end of a 20 year conservation project for the Department of Conservation.
It had been a long exile for the rare flightless bird after being driven from its Campbell Island home by rats more than 200 years ago.
In fact, up until 1972, when a small group were discovered on rat-free Dent Island, off Campbell Island’s coast, the teal was thought to have been extinct for about 100 years. It was from this small group that the Department of Conservation has been able to turn the tide and has been able to establish a thriving teal population back onto Campbell Island.
Pete McClelland with the releasing two
of Campbell Island teal, Campbell Island
The third and final release which saw 54 teal being transferred onto Campbell Island followed two earlier releases in 2004 and 2004 where 50 and 55 respectively were transferred back to their island home.
Monitoring of these earlier two releases showed the teal were breeding, a very encouraging result for the programme.
The teal recovery programme started back in 1987 when four birds were transferred from their refuge on 26 ha rat-free Dent Island to the Department of Conservation’s National Wildlife Centre at Pukaha Mount Bruce.
However, these evacuees were reluctant to breed and by 1993 not a single egg had been laid. Thankfully a breakthrough came in 1994 when Daisy and Donald paired up and the first two ducklings hatched.
Successfully rearing the first ducklings earned the wildlife centre international recognition and by March 2000 the captive population has risen to 60.
Codfish Island / Whenua Hou was chosen to host the insurance population, with two lots of 12 captive-raised birds being released. A successful 88 per cent survival rate resulted. What this demonstrated was that transfer from captivity to a predator free island wild environment can be achieved with little loss.
Following from this it was decided that releases on Campbell Island should be directed from captivity, not via an intermediate “toughing up” stage. However, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the department carrying out the world’s largest rat eradication programme on Campbell Island in 2001.
The programme was ambitious as it sought to eradicate Norway rats from Campbell, one of the New Zealand’s five subantarctic islands located about 700 km south of the South Island.
The Norway rat is one of the smallest predators killing New Zealand’s native species and has proved to be one of the most difficult to eradicate.
Therefore, when the recovery plan for the teal was written by the department in 1993 with the goal being to return the species back to Campbell Island, rats were still present on the island. The technology and expertise available means they couldn’t be removed. So the department started planning.
After five years of extensive preparation and research, DOC had developed and refined the techniques that made the rat eradication project feasible.
In 2003 Campbell Island was declared rat free. A year later the first teal were returned home. It was a homecoming that was celebrated both nationally and internationally.
What makes this recovery so special is that a lot of conservation projects don’t have an end point, they are an ongoing battle but the teal recovery programme has achieved what the department set out to achieve - the recovery of Campbell Island teal and a big step in the restoration of Campbell Island.
Auckland Island teal sitting on a rock
Recovery plan in action:
The Department of Conservation’s Subantarctic Teal Recovery Plan was written in 1993. This plan set in place a series of steps to promote the recovery of the teal. The plan also outlines different management options.
The long-term vision of the plan is:
“To improve the conservation status of both Campbell Island teal and the Auckland Island teal from endangered to rare by re-establishing them in their former ranges so that further intensive management is no longer required.” A vision which in 2006 was realised for the Campbell Island teal following three successful transfers in 2004, 2005 and 2006. The 159 teal released during those years are now, without management assistance, recolonising their former home.
You can help
Auckland Island teal pair among kelp,
The continued success of the Campbell Island teal recovery story and the progress being made with the Auckland Island teal lies with you.
Not only does the department need your support for these programmes but also your awareness about the islands’ fragile ecosystem. It is important these systems are not compromised by any adverse activities on the islands or in the seas surrounding. An event such as an oil spill has the potential to decimate the teal by covering their main feeding areas.
You can also assist the department by being aware of the international significance of New Zealand’s island reserves which have a significant role in protecting a wide range of special and often unique plants and animals. Your understanding goes a long way to raising awareness about the type of habitat the teal rely on for their survival.
Because few people get to the islands, some of these special plants and animals, including the Campbell Island teal, have been brought back to the mainland and can be seen at approved facilities around New Zealand, most notably at the National Wildlife Centre at Mt Bruce.
For more information about subantartic teal contact:
National Wildlife Centre at Mount Bruce