Ayla Wiles (DOC) and Avi Carrington (Patuharakeke) at the new shell nest site in Waipu
Image: DOC

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


New Zealand’s most endangered birds, the tara iti /New Zealand fairy tern, received a boost to their upcoming breeding season with the creation of three new man-made shell nesting sites in Waipu, north of Auckland.

Date:  19 August 2019

Fairyterns build their nests on exposed, low-lying areas of shell-covered sand. These nesting sites were made by transporting 130 tonnes of locally sourced shell into new, safer sites by helicopter last week.  

The operation was funded by Te Arai and Mangawhai Shorebirds Trust and supported by local hapū Patuharakeke, Refining NZ and Skyworks Helicopters.

“We are collaborating and supporting these two priority management strategies and believe they will have the most immediate and positive impact on the breeding success of the tara iti population,” says Linda Guzik from the Shorebirds Trust.

“Other than predator control, habitat enhancement is the most important action that can be taken to ensure the tara iti’s survival.”

Troy Makan, Tara Iti Recovery Group leader, is pleased with the creation of these new habitats just before the breeding season commences in spring.  

“The new shell patch breeding sites have created three safer places for the tara iti to nest on, protecting them from tidal inundation and sand blow,” he says. “In the past we’ve had nests impacted by high winds, which means the parent birds can’t find their eggs, and king tides washing the nests away. The new sites have been placed in the rear of the dunes, providing more protection for the chicks and their parents.”

Creating new shell patch breeding sites is part of a wider three-year plan developed by the Tara Iti Recovery Group, which was formed earlier this year to identify ways to help protect these rare birds. The plan includes the development of further shell patches across all tara iti breeding sites.

“Support for our most endangered bird by community groups and local hapu and iwi is essential for their survival. I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Te Arai and Mangawhai Shorebirds Trust and those who partnered with them to get these new shell nests created, and the ongoing work of the recovery group,” says Lou Sanson, Director General DOC.

“Patuharakeke Te Iwi Trust is pleased to support this kaupapa, we consider this to be a contemporary exercise of our kaitiakitanga, helping to protect tara iti, a taonga species. It also provides opportunities for our rangatahi to be trained and gain valuable experience in conservation work,” says Juliane Chetham, Patuharakeke Te Iwi Trust Trustee and co-convenor Resource Management Unit.

Tara iti are critically endangered. The total population of this species is around 35-39 birds.

Background information

Tara iti/fairy tern

Tara iti used to nest on beaches right round the North Island coast and on the east coast of the South Island. Introduced predators - feral cats, rats, stoats, ferrets and weasels - habitat loss and human disturbance have brought them to the brink of extinction.

Tara iti now have just four main nesting sites: Papakanui Spit, Pakiri Beach, Waipu and Mangawhai sandspits.

To protect tara iti at their nesting sites, follow these simple rules:

  • stay out of taped off or fenced areas and use designated walkways
  • take a wide berth around nests and chicks
  • keep dogs on leads
  • remove bait and rubbish from the beach to deter rats and other predators.
  • drive vehicles below the high tide mark.

Tara iti recovery programme 

DOC works closely with Te Arai and Mangawhai Shorebirds Trust, The New Zealand Fairy Tern Charitable Trust, About Tern, Birds New Zealand, Waipu Trapping Group, Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara, Te Uri O Hau, Ngāti Manuhuri and Patuharakeke to help protect tara iti.

Tara iti nest on beaches during summer between October and February. They create a nest by scraping a small hollow in the sand. This means their eggs and chicks are very vulnerable. DOC and volunteers fence off the four nesting areas and erect signs asking the public not to enter the sites.

DOC also employs six summer rangers during the breeding season. At least ranger is assigned to each breeding site to monitor and protect Tara iti nests during the nesting season. They also control predators at each site and talk to the public about protecting these rare birds. This work is supported by dedicated local volunteers.

Eggs are transferred between nests to maximise the productivity of the breeding pairs of adult tara iti, with Auckland Zoo providing facilities to incubate the eggs.

Since the recovery programme began the number of tara iti has risen from a low, of just three breeding pairs in 1984, to seven breeding pairs in the last season.


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Email: media@doc.govt.nz

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