Adult black stilt/kakī
Image: Kiersten McKinley | DOC

Introduction

Kakī, or black stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae), is a native wading bird only found in New Zealand. It is regarded by Māori as a taonga species – a living treasure.

Highlights

Population: 106 wild adult birds in 2017 
New Zealand status: Endemic
Conservation status: Nationally Critical
Found in: Braided rivers and wetlands of the Mackenzie Basin, South Island
Threats: Predation, habitat loss, disturbance

Sound recording: 

Adult black stilt/kakī song (MP3, 2,380K) 
02:36 – Territorial and alarm calls of two adults protecting their young

Species information: Black stilt on NZ Birds Online

In this section

Kakī conservation

Kakī are found in braided riverbeds, side streams, swamps and tarns and sometimes on lake margins and irrigated paddocks if there is good feed available. Most riverbed birds migrate to coastal areas in winter, but kakī usually remain in the Mackenzie Basin despite parts of their habitat freezing over.

Kakī can form lifelong pairs. Due to their low numbers, if they cannot find a kakī mate, they may sometimes breed with the pied stilt/poaka. Historically hybridisation was an issue, but with intensive management this has been greatly reduced.

Did you know?

Within hours, newly hatched chicks can hunt for food and swim if necessary.

The main threats to kakī include:

  • Predators – especially introduced mammalian predators like feral cats and ferrets.
  • Habitat loss and modification – such as hydroelectric and agricultural development and weed invasion.
  • Human disturbance – recreational users of riverbeds and wetlands can crush eggs or chicks and scare adult kakī away from their nests.

The challenge now is to learn how and when to manage these threats. Targeted research will help to identify the most effective and efficient management techniques to use. With the support of landowners, recreationalists and the general public, we hope that kakī will thrive in their natural habitat once more.

Kakī recovery programme

Kakī have been intensively managed since 1981, when their population declined to a low of just 23 birds. DOC's captive breeding centre, near the town of Twizel in the Mackenzie Basin, plays an important role in the Kakī Recovery Programme.

In partnership with the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch , a number of breeding pairs are held in captivity. Eggs are collected from both captive pairs and wild breeding pairs. Kakī eggs are artificially incubated and the young chicks are raised in captivity. At 3–9 months they are released into the wild. Rearing them in captivity significantly increases their chances of survival by preventing predation when they are most vulnerable. This also reduces the chance of incubating adults being taken by predators while on the nest. By collecting eggs, the birds are encouraged to lay multiple clutches per year, which increases the number of eggs available for artificial incubation.

Conservation efforts to date have succeeded in averting extinction and increasing kakī numbers. By 2017, kakī numbers in the wild have increased to 106 adults. Once kaki are released from captivity an average of 29% will survive to breeding age. However this has increased to 49% in the Tasman River in recent years where large scale predator control is in operation. There has also been an increase from four productive kaki pairs in 1999 to 28 pairs in 2016, half of which are found in the Tasman River.

With the support of landowners, recreationalists and the general public, we hope that kakī will thrive in their natural habitat once more.

You can help

Students with trap boxes.
Twizel Area School students and the predator trap boxes they made
Image: K.Mckinley ©

Help protect New Zealand's native birds

  • Volunteer with DOC or other groups to control predators and restore bird habitats.
  • Don’t throw rubbish into water ways or storm drains.
  • Set traps for stoats or rats on your property. Get more information from your local DOC office.
  • Put a bell on your cat's collar, feed it well, and keep it indoors at night.
  • Plant a range of native plants that provide food year-round to encourage birds into your garden.
When visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
  • Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep your dog under control.
  • Prevent the spread of pests. Check your gear for mice and rats when visiting pest-free islands.
  • Use available access ways to get to the beach. Stay out of fenced-off areas. Leave nesting birds alone.
  • Get your dog trained in avian awareness, and help save forest birds like kiwi and weka.
  • Follow the water care code. Keep water craft speed to 5 knots within 200 metres of the shore.
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