December 19 2018 by Samantha Gee
The squeaks of young kākā chicks can be heard at Natureland, as a group are being hand-reared in a bid to boost the population of native parrots.
Natureland Wildlife Trust director Meg Rutledge said the South Island kākā were being raised as part of an initiative with Project Janszoon to boost the kākā population in the top of the south.
The oldest chicks are almost a month old and are fed six times a day by Natureland staff.
Rutledge said kākā were endangered and it was estimated there were 10,000 birds or less in the wild. Locally, there were areas they were doing well, but also places they weren’t.
She said there were a few reasons behind the decision to raise chicks at Natureland.
Kākā typically laid between two and five eggs and Rutledge said the survival rate of a kākā nest in the wild was less than 40 per cent as they were heavily predated on by stoats, rats and possums.
“It would be unusual, even in a perfect world with no predators for every chick to survive to adulthood so it is one of their strategies, having eggs that hatch on different days.”
Kākā didn’t breed every year, but tended to reproduce during a beech mast, when there were high levels of seed production. With 2019 predicted to be a mast year, it was likely the birds would produce a second clutch next year.
“The hope is absolutely that we are doubling survival this year not taking survival out of mum’s hands. She still has that shot at natural rearing and then we are just trying to make sure we guarantee some survival.”
She said extensive pest control work, elimination of invasive species and regeneration of native flora in the Abel Tasman had made it a fantastic habitat for kākā.
Along with the low birth rate and low survival rate, Rutledge said females were often killed while sitting on the nest so the population ended up with a male bias.
In November 2015, four female kākā were released into the park in the hope they would pair up with the remaining kākā in the park, all of who were believed to be male.
Project Janszoon ornithologist Ron Moorhouse said the upcoming beech mast year was an opportunity to source the first clutches of eggs from kākā in areas around the top of the south where the birds were doing well.
“When their eggs are removed, the wild kākā are likely to have a second clutch.
“This means we are able to raise and introduce new birds with the right genetics into the Abel Tasman and the wild birds will still produce chicks which will hopefully fledge in the wild.”