NEWBURGH – For Douglas Robinson, a Mount Saint Mary College associate professor of Biology, avian research has always been full of adventure. From climbing trees to broadcasting birdcalls on cross-island canoe rides, Robinson’s latest excursion in the field – a seven month sabbatical in New Zealand – contained no shortage of excitement.
His research, which was mostly focused in Abel Tasman National Park, involved surveying the local populations of endangered bird species. These species included Yellow-crowned Parakeets, Forest Parakeets (Kākās), and Saddlebacks.
New Zealand once enjoyed a long history of isolation from humans and other land mammals, so the relatively recent settlement of humans on the continent has caused major ecological disturbances, Robinson revealed.
Over 80 million years, “The animals didn’t evolve with any terrestrial mammals on the two main islands of New Zealand, which make up a landmass about the size of California,” explained Robinson. “No mice, no rats, no cats, no dogs – just birds.”
The birds lost the ability to fly over time because there were no major predators. After the introduction of invasive rabbits by European settlers, a long history of predator introduction began in attempts to curtail the problem. But when humans brought animals like dogs and cats, the flightless birds were defenseless. Up to 70 percent of bird species were eliminated.
New Zealand has since put great emphasis on conservation, especially on that of bird species, the primary subjects of Robison’s research.
Working closely with project Janszoon and the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust, Robinson diligently tracked the reintroduction efforts for Saddleback birds in and around Abel Tasman National Park.