Whanganui’s Bushy Park Tarapuruhi sanctuary is home once again to a flock of long-lost residents, the pōpokotea whitehead.
The predator-free sanctuary, a partnership between Forest & Bird, Bushy Park Trust, and local iwi members of Ngaa Rauru Kiitahi, welcomed 52 pōpokotea whiteheads – an ancient species only found in Aotearoa.
“This is an incredible opportunity to re-establish a species at Bushy Park Tarapuruhi, which would once have been found in their hundreds in this area,” said Forest & Bird’s sanctuary manager Mandy Brooke.
The tiny birds were moved in small groups from Waitahinga Reserve and released into their new home at Bushy Park Tarapuruhi.
“Whiteheads are ‘babysitters’ for koekoeā long-tailed cuckoo eggs and chicks, so if we’re lucky, we’ll also have some koekoeā decide to move in too,” said Brooke.
“Providing a home for these delightful birds has required a careful and concerted effort by many partners and experts. We’re extremely grateful for the support we’ve received to make this project a reality and honoured to welcome what will become our first breeding pōpokotea pairs.”
The timing of this project was reliant on the availability of birds and the weather.
“We caught and released pōpokotea as we went to minimise stress on these birds,” said Kevin Parker from Parker Conservation, the translocation specialist leading the 12-person catching team.
The translocation was funded by Horizons Regional Council.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for the Whanganui area from a biodiversity standpoint, to have a predator-proof asset such as Bushy Park Tarapuruhi to reintroduce these species back into,” said Nick Heslop, the Horizons community biodiversity advisor.
“Bushy Park Tarapuruhi have been working closely with Horizons Regional Council around this pōpokotea translocation. It’s about restoring the missing pieces of the ecosystem in an important priority habitat site. To be able to provide a safe predator-free habitat for these and other ‘at-risk’ species, to not only survive but also to thrive and repopulate is a credit to the many volunteers and expert input and advice from all involved.”
Pōpokotea are easily killed by rats and stoats and the destruction and fragmentation of their forest homes is also a big issue, said Forest & Bird.
In a recent assessment of the threat status of New Zealand birds, the Department of Conservation recognised the importance of fenced sanctuaries and translocations for pōpokotea.
Wendy Bainbridge, senior parks manager at Whanganui District Council, said the council was “pleased to have supported the project, which will help to provide a breeding population of pōpokotea at Bushy Park Tarapuruhi.”