Orange-Fronted Parakeet

Orange-fronted Parakeets/Kakariki- OFP for short- are in the most trouble of New Zealand’s five parakeets, which are endemic at the species level.  They are Nationally Critical, the highest threat classification, and although previously relatively widespread are now confined to a few valleys in inland Canterbury.  Numbers declined to perhaps 50 before massive intervention to trap predators and establish a captive breeding program.  The natural population is now probably stable or increasing and they have been induced to breed in captivity.  The next step was to establish more viable populations in predator-free areas.

Translocation to Tuhua

There have been two previous translocations to island sites, with mixed success.  Tuhua/Mayor Island was identified as a possible translocation site and the project was initiated in 2009 by John Heaphy from DOC.  The comparatively winterless and northerly Tuhua was a controversial choice, being so far away from the remaining natural site in the South Island.

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At the nest high in the beech forest in Canterbury. How will they fare in a regenerating forest up North? Photo: Jack Van Hal, DOC

There are however historic records of OFPs from the region.  Tuhua has a lot of advantages though- it is big, mammalian pest-free, has good quality regenerating forest with permanent fresh water, and is a long way (35+ km) from anywhere with other species of parakeets, to mitigate the risk of interbreeding. Partly because of promised funding by Fauna Recovery NZ, John Heaphy got the go-ahead for the project and the first transfer was in December 2009. It’s a slick operation: the birds are caught at the captive breeding facility in Christchurch first thing in the morning, and arrive the same afternoon on Tuhua after a scheduled airline flight and helicoptering over from Rotorua.

Early sightings on Tuhua. Map: John Heaphy, DOC

In 7 operations to date, 71 OFPs have been moved to Tuhua, with no losses during transportation, which is remarkable given how easily stressed parakeets are.The birds seem to be establishing well near one of the crater lakes.  In March 2011 the first fledged island-bred bird was photographed by John.

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The first fledged chick seen on Tuhua. Photo: John Heaphy, DOC

Shortly after he discovered that one pair was simultaneously on its third and fourth nests for the season. OFPs in Canterbury have only ever been seen breeding once per season.  Perhaps plentiful food and water supplies and generally warmer weather have induced this unprecedented behaviour.

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One pair, four nests. Photo: John Heaphy, DOC
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Nest visit. Photo: John Heaphy, DOC

Funded by Fauna Recovery NZ (picking up helicopter flights of $10,500 to date). Co-funded by Isaac Wildlife Trust (captive breeding).

Restoration of Tuhua

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Tuhua is a great prospect for restoration- it is far enough offshore that predators can’t swim there, it is in stable private ownership  with committed buy-in from the owners, is somewhat accessible to the public, and has one of DOC’s modest stars leading the restoration.

After the removal of predators in the early 2000s, the first species John Heaphy took over was North Island robin.  They have thrived, as have tui, kaka and a host of other species.  The forest is regenerating apace.  We first got involved with a pateke translocation, and are committed in advance to completing the transfer of enough OFP to get the genetics right.

Tuhua is a model for cooperation between the government conservation entity and landowners, with a relationship of mutual respect between owners Te Whanau A Tauwhao ki Tuhua (represented by the TuhuaTrust Board) and DOC.

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Photo: DOC

Don Merton’s Last Field Trip

Everyone was privileged to have Don and Margaret Merton visit for the January 2011 OFP release, and it was in fact Don’s last field trip before his untimely death.  History will give  a prominent place to Don Merton’s pioneering achievements in species conservation- island translocations, cross-fostering and conservation by intensive management.

Don Merton releases OFP on Tuhua January 2011

His pioneering work from the 1960s onwards with tieke/saddleback, black robin and kakapo among many other species, has created the template for many of the projects written up on our site as if they were everyday matters, which indeed they are now becoming thanks to Don’s legacy.  Don’s photos pop up around our site from his days working on many species with DOC, and we especially thank Margaret Merton for permission to include her and Don’s record of their trip to Tuhua.