Predator Free Wellington - ZEALANDIA’s halo effect and what you can do to help
It’s quiet…too quiet.
When Captain Cook first anchored off New Zealand, the dawn chorus was described as “deafening”. Where did the birds go? Why aren’t there kōkako in Karori? Hihi in Ōhāriu?
Terrestrial mammalian predators first arrived in New Zealand with people. Over the years, rats, weasels, stoats, and ferrets have established themselves here, and taken a deadly toll. New Zealand birds are particularly vulnerable as many species nest on the ground or in tree hollows, which are easily attacked. Flightless birds are also at risk, as their evolutionary response to threats is to freeze rather than flee.
Predator Free 2050 is an umbrella term that covers a number of initiatives throughout New Zealand. The aim is to make New Zealand free of introduced mammalian predators by 2050.
In Wellington, over 40 suburbs have created their own voluntary predator free groups, supplying traps and bait to residents, and monitoring the number of reported kills. Predator Free Wellington (PFW) was established in 2017 with philanthropic, local and central government backing, and aims to make Greater Wellington predator free within ten years.
The first target of PFW is to make the Miramar peninsula predator free by the end of 2019. A dedicated team of PFW workers check traps and bait stations on a weekly basis, taking away kills and replenishing the bait in all weathers. Over 6,000 traps and baits have been deployed. The traps and bait stations are designed to prevent access by larger animals such as pets.
The peninsula will be kept predator free with rat-proof fencing at the airport, and a virtual barrier of traps and bait stations at the coast.
Bird life on the Miramar peninsula has started to recover since trapping started. I now commonly see tūī, kererū, kōtare (kingfisher), tauhou (silvereye), and pīwakawaka (fantail); I hear the calls of riroriro (grey warbler) and ruru; and kārearea (New Zealand falcon) are established in neighbouring Strathmore. These birds can often be seen in backyard gardens as well as the parks and reserves on the peninsula. On the sea shore, tōrea (variable oystercatchers), takapu (gannets), kawau paka (little shags) and kāruhiruhi (pied shags) are regularly seen, as well as gulls and terns. Skinks and geckos are also making a comeback on the peninsula and can be seen basking in the sun on rocks near the shore and in gardens.
Where will the birds come from? How can we get hihi and tīeke, kākā and kākāriki to return to our gardens and parks? The process has already started! As birds in ZEALANDIA continue to breed and populate the valley, a “halo effect” has begun. Birds know no boundaries and can fly over the fence to start nesting outside the valley. This halo effect has already led to sightings of kākā in and around Wellington, and as far afield as Upper Hutt. They are seen in many suburbs and in the Wellington Botanic Gardens. Kākāriki have been reported in Hataitai. As many of our native species nest in tree hollows, or on the ground, they are vulnerable to predation once they are outside the ZEALANDIA fence but as the predator threat is dealt with, they will nest and breed more successfully.
To help birds to spread out, we need to establish or preserve our green corridors. Some smaller birds won’t fly over large urban areas but will be happy to travel from tree to tree in back gardens. They can disperse several miles from where they hatched if the circumstances are right.
What can you do to help? There are many predator free groups throughout Wellington and beyond. Get in touch with your local group. If there isn’t one, get in touch with PFW and they will help you start one! Planting native trees and other flora in back gardens can also help with the green corridors. Talk to your neighbours about bringing the wildlife back to New Zealand. Together we can all make a difference.
Photo & article by Rory Wilsher (member of the ZEALANDIA Visitor Art and Photography group)