Westland petrel/tāiko

The Westland petrel (tāiko) is endemic to New Zealand and breeds only on the West Coast of the South Island. A large proportion of the petrel’s time is spent off New Zealand’s West Coast, and little is known about their life history while they are at sea.

Facts

Westland black petrel. Photo: C Robertson.
Westland black petrel

This distinctive bird is blackish-brown with an ivory beak and black feet. The tāiko is important because it is one of the few petrel species that still remains on the New Zealand mainland and inhabits much of the same breeding range as it did prior to human habitation.

The survival of this species therefore has great significance, since these birds are the last remnant of a unique ecosystem.

Winter breeders

The Westland petrel (tāiko) differs from other petrels in being a winter breeder, and because it still nests on the New Zealand mainland. They are confined to a single breeding location along an 8 km stretch of coastal forest in the foothills of the Paparoa Range near Punakaiki.

Where to find them

Westland black petrel. Photo: R Morris.
Westland black petrel

During the breeding season, the tāiko can also be found feeding off the Kaikoura and Westland coasts. In the non-breeding season, it ranges from eastern Australia to Peru and Chile. It ranges widely in search of food but concentrates on the hoki fisheries of the West Coast and Cook Strait.

Numerous petrel species once bred inland in coastal forests on the mainland. However, depredation by humans and introduced mammals such as stoats, cats, dogs, pigs and rats has been responsible for the almost complete removal of petrels from the mainland.

The large size and aggression of Westland petrels allows them to better defend themselves and their chicks from most predators, enabling them to survive where other petrel species have been lost.

Westland petrel/tāiko sound recording

Listen to or download a recording of Westland petrel/tāiko song (MP3, 6,945K) - a 7 minute 24 second recording of two adult Westland petrel/tāiko sitting on surface outside burrows.

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Tāiko colony: a recent discovery

Westland black petrel. Photo: R Morris.
Westland black petrel

The tāiko was discovered as recently as 1945, when pupils of the Barrytown School north of Greymouth discovered it while conducting a school project.

DOC rangers began studying the tāiko colony to collect information on the survival rates of adult birds, the number of chicks being produced and how many birds were returning to breed. Since the programme began, thousands of birds have been banded in order to monitor breeding success and survival rates.

Westland petrel numbers have trebled since the 1960s and the population is now about 20,000 birds, with an average of 2,000 breeding pairs. Breeding success fluctuates from year to year with up to 80% of chicks surviving to fledge.

Westland black petrel pair, one inside and the other outside the burrow. Photo: R Morris.
Westland black petrel pair, one inside
and the other outside the burrow

Tāiko do not start breeding until they are 12 years old, and they are a long-lived species. They were traditionally harvested by Māori in the past, and as a food source for early European settlers on the coast.

Threats

Threats to the Westland petrel include predators, power lines, and exposed lighting near their flight paths.

Human activities such as mining, forestry, and agriculture have also severely reduced available habitat for petrels.

You can help

You can help New Zealand's birdlife by controllling predators such as stoats and possums, and by protecting bird habitats.

Read more about pest control in New Zealand.


Related link

Watch a video about Westland petrel/tāiko

 

Find out more

Learn more

New Zealand Birds Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand birds

Contacts

DOC's 24 hour emergency hotline:

0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)

Call to report sick or injured wildlife, and whale or dolphin strandings.