Explore the features of some of our most endangered birds and the recovery programmes, techniques and technology that is helping them survive.

This resource uses eight Meet the Locals videos where the focus is on the recovery and protection of five special birds.

  • Takahē
  • Kākāpō
  • Chatham Island black robin
  • Kōkako
  • Northern royal albatross

It links to other resources and learning tools which provide practical activities to develop your students' knowledge and skills. It can be use for both primary and secondary students.

About the resource

Learning levels

  • Primary
  • Secondary 


  • Native animals

Curriculum learning areas

  • Science (Living world)
  • Social science
  • Technology
  • Education for sustainablility

Achievement objectives

  • Students will explain how living things are suited to their particular habitat and how they respond to environmental changes both natural and human induced.
  • Students will understand how people participate individually and collectively in response to community challenges.
  • Students will explain the nature of an intended outcome explaining how it addresses the need or opportunity.

Learning outcomes

  • Students will explain how the adaptive features of some of New Zealand's most endangered birds are now contributing to their downfall.
  • Students will complete a chart to show what knowledge, skills and actions a species recovery programme needs and the reasons behind such actions.
  • Students will use story board techniques to plan a short video that provides a useful snapshot of a takahe recovery programme.
  • Students will choose the best ongoing recovery plan for a critically endangered bird from a list of options by considering the consequences of each option.
  • Students will design a technological system that could help solve a problem that is putting endangered birds at risk.

View the resource

DOC and TVNZ collaborated to create this "NZ Biology: A bird in the hand" resource which was written by DOC ranger Mike Tapp.

Starter 1

Introduced predators, hunting and fire have decimated New Zealand's bird populations.

Share the story below with your students without telling them the name of the bird. It's the huia.

Sir Walter Buller, who had been brought up in New Zealand and became extremely knowledgeable about New Zealand birds, wrote this story in 1867 during a search for a very special bird:

"We heard her soft flute-note in the wooded gully far beneath us. One of our native companions at once imitated the call, and in a few seconds a pair of beautiful birds, male and female, appeared in the branches near us. They remained gazing at us only for a few instants, and then started off up the hill, moving by a succession of hops, often along the ground, the male generally leading. Waiting until he could get both birds in a line, my friend at length pulled trigger."

Decide in class why the birds were shot.

Students can then use the clues to work out which bird it is. When they think they have the right bird, check the TerraNature website.

Discuss likely reasons for other New Zealand birds becoming extinct and read some of the examples on the TerraNature website again to find out more about those extinct birds.

Starter 2

The takahē

1. Watch the Meet the Locals episode Takahē champion and see what Sophie's doing to help save a species that could have joined New Zealand's extinct bird list. It shows how one young person met a challenge and made a difference.

After the video, list these things in class:

  • The need Sophie recognised
  • The mission she set herself that she believed would help the takehē
  • The questions she probably needed answered as she began her investigation
  • Her solution which in the end helped the takehē

2. In groups have the students compile a 'high five' bird list - five of New Zealand's native birds that they think may have needed human intervention to help ensure their survival.

Add the challenge of listing birds from different habitats- e.g. the forest, coast, wetlands, fast flowing rivers, tussock country, high country.

Share the lists as a class, compile a master list and circle the five birds we'll focus on through the videos - the takehē, kōkako, kākāpō, black robin and Royal Northern albatross.

Explain that all these birds have suffered, then benefited by human intervention. The same groups can choose one of the birds and from what they already know, they should list:

  • A need
  • A mission that could be done that might possibly help the bird
  • Some questions that would have to be answered first- the investigation
  • A likely solution

Collect these ideas for later use. After seeing the videos the students' ideas may change.

3. Takehē were thought to be extinct until rediscovered in 1948. They're ground nesting birds so like the kiwi that lose 90% of their chicks in the wild, takehē chicks are also easy prey for stoats.

Before you watch the Meet the Locals episode Takahē release, touch on these things in class:

  • What are the different habitats for New Zealand's native birds?
  • What special adaptations do our birds have for:
    • Flight? (Think of fantails, hawks and albatross)
    • Swimming and diving? (e.g. ducks' oily and waterproof cover and penguin feathers which become a sleek fine fur)
    • Hunting and feeding? (e.g. sharp talons, curved beaks to tear flesh or short sharp beaks for feeding on seeds)
  • What physical adaptations do the flightless birds like takehē have? (Study this image on the NZ bird website)
  • Have takehē adapted in any way to the presence of new enemies like stoats?
  • Takehē were thought to be extinct but were rediscovered in 1948. What might be the reason behind a small population surviving?

4. Watch the Meet the Locals episode Takahē release. Get your students to look for three things as they watch:

  • The suitability of the place the takehē chicks grew up in (on Tiritiri Matangi, a predator free island. Watch the Meet the Locals episode Tiritiri Matangi Island)
  • The unique habitat these birds are being introduced into
  • The teacher the chicks needed in their new home

Discuss those questions in class after viewing the video and then decide how important the intervention is for the survival of takehē.

5. The core population of takehē is found in the Murchison Mountains, an area that's seen a summer plague of stoats. The amount of land trapped will increase from 15,000 to 50,000 hectares so this makes this recovery programme a huge operation.

Action for Recovery will help students link the groups, their skills and actions required if an operation like this is to succeed.

Try the activity in groups and then "jigsaw". Get each person in the group to move to a different group to share ideas. Discuss the findings in class.

The kākāpō

6. The Kākāpō Recovery Plan is a joint partnership between DOC and Forest and Bird. The catch cry on their website is:

Over 7 billion people on earth 
Fewer than 160 kākāpō 
Time is critical

Share the catch cry with your students and get them to design a home page for a Kākāpō Recovery Plan website. The aim is not for a work of art but content and design that will grab people, inform them and get them involved. Work in small groups sketching the design on a large sheet of paper.

Their home page needs:

  • A headline and attention grabbing subtitle
  • A picture (Show its location and describe the photo you would put there)
  • The page link buttons that clearly show what will be found on the pages
  • The front page feature that shows in a creative way, what people in the field are doing to help

Share the ideas in class.

7. Now introduce the Kākāpō Recovery Plan website.

Students should research one of the bullet pointed aspects below and present an oral report to the class. Together they will build knowledge of kākāpō, the recovery programme and the people that make it work.

From Then and Now

  • Iwi perspective
  • Decline and Turning the tide
  • Codfish Island and Anchor Island

From Meet the Kākāpō

  • Breeding
  • Getting Around and Behaviour
  • Life Cycle
  • From Meet the People

The National Kākāpō team - focus on the skills they have.

From What we do

  • Intensive monitoring
  • Health checks
  • Predator control
  • Supplementary feeding
  • Artificial Incubation and hand feeding
  • Research 1: Kākāpō genetic studies (tricky!)
  • Research 2: Supplementary feeding
  • Technology 1: The nest kit
  • Technology 2: The snark

8. Now that your students are experts, get small groups to design a storyboard for a 4 minute Meet the Locals video at Codfish Island. Which bits would they include? Which bits would they leave out if they wanted to provide the best possible snapshot of the kākāpō recovery programme?

Download this movie planner (PDF, 29K) from the TVNZ website to help you get started.

9. Now watch the Meet the Locals episode Saving the kākāpō.

The Chatham Islands black robin

10. While the kākāpō recovery is amazing, the Chatham Islands Black Robin came even closer to extinction. By 1980 there were only five birds left in the world. Two of these were females and only one produced fertile eggs.

Download the black robin recovery plan (PDF, 141K) and locate the Chathams Island area with the distribution map of the black robin on page 6.

Discuss how the black robins were once found on all the islands.

  • By 1872 when the species was first encountered by European observers it had already disappeared from Chatham Island.
  • For several decades prior to the species dramatic rescue in 1976 the whole of the world's black robin population was on Tapuaenuku (Little Mangere), a tiny cliff bound island in the Chathams.
  • Black Robins are currently on two small islands - Mangere and Rangitira (South East island).

Download Match the threats (PDF, 56K) from the TVNZ website. This activity looks at how numbers got so low with a focus on how the little bird's way of life was so easily threatened by the trimmings of human settlement.

11. Watch the Meet the Locals video Black robin.

Get the students to look for two key things:

  • Why Little Mangere was the only island with black robins by 1970
  • How Wildlife staff managed to build the population from 5 in 1980 to over 250 by 2000

Discuss those two points after watching the video.

12. In groups and on large pieces of paper students can draw a flow chart of the early stages of the black robin recovery plan but share this information too.

  • Members of Forest and Bird helped buy Mangere Island and plant 12,000 trees there so the black robin would have a healthier forest home.
  • At first, Chatham Island warblers were used as foster parents, but they couldn't keep up with the feeding when the chicks hatched. Tomtits made far better foster parents.
  • Unfortunately the young black robins started to think they were tomtits! They sang tomtit songs and didn't pair with other black robins.
  • The young birds were returned to the black robin nest for the last few days of living in the nest& to learn to behave like black robins should!

Watch a Tomtit feeding black robin chicks [no longer available].

13. Download the story of Old Blue (PDF, 79K) from the TVNZ website.

Old Blue is the common ancestor of every black robin alive today, through the eyes of Don Merton, the man who set up the recovery programme for the Chatham Island black robin.

Study the consequences of each of the "remarkable" and "lucky" things that happened. Decide if the Chatham Island black robin would still be around today if any one of these events did not happen.

14. Now watch the Meet the Locals video The man who saved the black robin and meet Don Merton.

Watch a video of Don Merton catching a Chatham Island black robin.

15. By 1999, 254 black robins were alive. What next for the black robin (PDF, 53K) looks at three options for the next stage of the recovery plan. Using choices and proposed actions from DOC's actual recovery plan students consider the options and consequences of actions and choose the option they would follow.

Discuss these words before you start:

  • revegetation (a new forest derived in part from the planting of 120,000 rooted cuttings taken from local stock, is regenerating on Mangere Island)
  • consequences
  • monitoring

Answer: DOC chose option B. Black robins currently live on Rangatira (South East) Island and Mangere Island in the Chatham Islands group. Attempts made to establish another population in a fenced covenant on Pitt Island have failed, possibly due to competition for food with introduced mice.

The kōkako

16. In Maori mythology it was the kōkako that brought Maui water when he fought the sun. The kōkako filled its wattles with water and brought it to Maui. His thirst quenched, Maui rewarded the kōkako by making its legs long and slender, enabling the bird to bound through the forest with ease in search of food.

Tell the class the story - here's one version of Maui and the sun and then share the part the kōkako played in the story.

Discuss how this adaptation for life in the forest, bounding through the trees rather than flying left the kōkako vulnerable as soon as ship rats arrived. These excellent climbers do more damage to the forest than Norway rats.

17. Now watch the Meet the Locals video Kōkako to find out more about this bird.

Pukaha Mt Bruce has an intensive trapping programme in place. There's a small predator proof fence to protect the takehē chicks but there is not a fence around the whole area. Discuss this in groups and see if the students can come up with the reasons why the Mt Bruce area isn't surrounded by a fence.

Answer: Restoring threatened wildlife to mainland New Zealand can't be done on a large scale by protecting them behind predator proof fences. At Mt Bruce it's been possible to successfully reintroduce species that were once locally extinct.

This is an important conservation education message and New Zealanders are doing this right around the country. Let's look at another example.

18. Nga Whenua Rahui is a government fund that can be used for conservation projects that will protect indigenous ecosystems on Maori land.

Ngapukeariki is one such project - a mainland island managed in partnership with Nga Whenua Rahui and the landowners represented by the Mangaroa/Ohotu Trust.

It's part of the Mangaroa/Ohotu covenant, 60 kilometres east of Opotiki. The local iwi is Te Whanau a Apanui and the total protected area is 1,300ha.

The aim of this project is to restore the area by reducing the numbers of pests and reintroducing species that have disappeared. In 2005, 18 kōkako were released into Ngapukeariki, near Omaio.

Watch the Meet the Locals video Kōkako translocation.

As they watch, ask the class to think about the things that must have been done before the kōkako were released.

Kōkako come home (PDF, 62K) on the TVNZ website shows the students the solutions the Mangaroa/Ohotu Trust found that eventually saw kōkako back in their lands. By listing some possible outcomes or consequences for each solution the students should gain a good understanding of this conservation process.

Toroa - the northern royal albatross

19. Lastly we look at an amazing seabird, the endangered royal northern albatross.

With a wingspan of up to 3.2 metres, the northern royal albatross is one of the world's largest flying birds.

The majority breed on Forty-Fours and Big and Little Sister Islands in the Chatham Islands group. They also breed on Enderby Island in the Auckland Islands and Taiaroa Heads on the Otago Peninsula. The Meet the Locals video examines the work done here.

These seabirds usually pair for life and if successful have chicks every two years. Mated pairs use the same nest site from season to season and they'll usually return to their breeding grounds between mid-October and mid-November. There, a month later, the female lays her single egg.

The chick emerges after 79 days incubation and the young fledges 240 days later from September to October the following year.

The Northern Royal Albatross can live for more than 60 years and they return to their natal colony at four to eight years of age. They don't start breeding however until they're at least nine years old.

Watch the Meet the Locals episode Toroa and take note of two things:

  • The features of the habitat the albatross nest in and
  • The tasks the DOC ranger does to ensure the chicks from this endangered species grow up fit and healthy and ready to fly.

Discuss those two points after the video. The students may have noticed these things:

  • Albatrosses typically nest on the flat summits of small islands so Taiaroa Heads has these features. It means when the chick is ready to fly it gets one chance as it launches itself off the edge.
  • Checking the nesting birds, their eggs and the chicks are the tasks for the DOC rangers. These albatrosses are monitored more closely than any other seabird. The blowflies don't stand a chance and the predator control programme for stoats, rats and cats is probably the oldest in New Zealand.

Design a solution!

  • The royal's nesting area on the headland is a 'hot spot' - a sheltered area where summer ground temperatures can reach 50 degrees celsius. This bird is better suited to subantarctic conditions but they chose this place.
  • In the past though both adults and chicks could die from heat exhaustion but this problem has been solved. Design the solution with a drawing that fully shows how it works.

Answer: There is now a sprinkler system that on hot days sprays water over the nest to cool the bird.

20. Northern royal albatrosses spend most of their lives at sea. The non breeding birds live over and on the sea all their lives so they never touch down on land.

Show a series of albatross photographs so students can list the adaptive features for life at sea. Check out the Royal Albatross page for some photos.

Some interesting features are:

  • Albatrosses' nostrils are located along the sides of their bill instead of on top. This gives them a better sense of smell.
  • They also have a gland that reduces the salt content in the seawater they drink.
  • They have a tendon too that allows them to lock their wings in place while gliding.

As a class decide how these same features have helped placed this incredible bird on the endangered list.

Now watch the video Save the Albatross on the The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds website.

21. But wait, there's hope! New long line methods used by some fishing boats slash the chances of seabirds being accidentally hooked.

Get your students to sketch some ideas of their own and then share them in class. Look at the BirdLife Australia website for some ideas if you need to provide some handy hints.

22. Return the ideas the students came up with for starter activity 2 - their intervention programmes. Discuss in class whether they would add or change anything. 

Active involvement - An optional extra

23. Green up your backyard.

Check out your school grounds with this worksheet on the TVNZ website: How green is your school's backyard? (PDF, 64K).

  • Then, plan to bring a few more native critters into your school's backyard
  • Just find a backyard space- perhaps around the old incinerator or somewhere!
  • Find out who might be interested if you change this little space
    • What do they think? Work out a way to find out!
  • Decide: Should we do the whole place or begin with a little bit?
    • What needs to go?
    • What need to stay?
    • What do birds and mini beasts need? E.g. food and places to hide!
    • What can we put there that will attract native wildlife?
  • Are there threats like rats and mice?
    • How can we get rid of them?
  • What could the final place look like?
    • Where could we get the things we need?
    • Draw up some plans
    • Show people your ideas
    • Ask for feedback and if you can and begin!

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