Introduction

A record breeding season for the endangered kakī/black stilt has been greatly helped by high country farmers.

Date:  18 March 2013

A record breeding season for the endangered kakī/black stilt has been greatly helped by high country farmers.

Each year the Department of Conservation (DOC) collects kakī eggs from the wild for safe incubation at the Captive Breeding Centre in Twizel. Nearly half (46%) of all eggs taken this summer were collected from farmland in the Mackenzie and Waitaki basins with the cooperation of farmers.

A particularly wet spring saw many kakī abandoning their traditional braided riverbed habitat in favour of wet paddocks and hidden ponds on private land, says DOC biodiversity ranger Simone Cleland.

Black stilt/kaki eggs in paddock.
Kakī/black stilt eggs in paddock

“We put the word out that we needed help to locate adult breeding pairs so we could collect eggs and got a fantastic response.”

“We had one farmer who rang up to say he had found four eggs and he’d wait until we picked them up before moving his sheep into the paddock.”

Ben Avon Station owner, Jim Morris, whose property in the Ahuriri valley also had breeding birds, says that this anecdote shows that conservation and production can work together with thought and effort from all parties.

“The black stilt has been brought back from the brink of extinction by the combined efforts of all land managers and this should be seen a small triumph in preserving biodiversity in the high country,” says Morris.

DOC reared a record 125 chicks this summer, up from the previous best of 111 in the 2009/10 season.  Approximately two thirds of the eggs were collected from 18 breeding pairs in the wild, supplemented by eggs from a small number of captive birds. A further five wild pairs managed to evade being found until they had hatched at least one chick. This total of 23 productive pairs is also better than the previous high of 20 pairs in 2007/08.

Black stilt, at nest containing eggs.
Black stilt, at nest containing eggs

Kakī range over a wide area in the Mackenzie and Waitaki basins and DOC really appreciates help from the public to locate the birds, says Cleland. 

“Kakī are in our backyard and ongoing support from the local community is critical to their survival. These beautiful birds face a whole raft of threats including predation from feral cats, stoats, weasels and ferrets.” 

Cleland is in no doubt that the artificial incubation of eggs and raising of chicks increases their chances of survival and is a “vital measure” to safeguard this rare wader.

DOC released 31 young birds in January around the Cowans Hill Walkway in Tekapo. The remainder will be held in captivity and returned to the wild in early spring.

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Background information

  • Kakī/black stilts are one of the rarest waders in the world. Their threat classification is nationally critical, DOC’s highest threat rating.
  • Kakī was once common throughout New Zealand but is now only generally found in the Mackenzie/Waitaki basins.
  • While other riverbed birds migrate in winter, kakī will stay in the braided rivers of Canterbury/North Otago high country and forage for food.
  • The main threat to the population is predation by feral cats, stoats, weasels and ferrets. Hedgehogs will eat eggs. 
  • The wild population was reduced to only 23 birds in 1981. In February 2012 the total population (wild and captive) was approx 200 birds. 
  • Six adult breeding pairs are usually held in captivity.

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Contact

Kiersten McKinley, Community Relations Ranger: +64 3 435 3185 or +64 27 306 3012

Simone Cleland, Biodiversity Assets Ranger: +64 3 435 0258 or +64 21 0255 2947

Dean Nelson, Programme Manager Threatened Species and Ecosystems: +64 3 435 0764 or +64 27 4824652

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