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Elusive pateke are hiding where you least expect them

Elusive pateke are hiding where you least expect them

Katie Sheridan is studying Pateke (Brown Teal) at ZEALANDIA.

While she was looking for the elusive ducks in the wetlands, our “eye in the sky” Alfie Kaka caught up with her in the wetlands to find out more about what she has been up to…

Alfie: A fishing net, a dog, and a caxixi? Is this a new type of summer sport or is there a method in your madness?

Katie: Fishing nets, a dog and a caxixi do sound like the perfect combination for summer recreation, but I’m using them to search for the elusive pateke (brown teal, Anas chlorotis). I use my caxixi, which is really just a peanut butter jar filled with corn grits, to lure in pateke in more populated areas of the sanctuary. Initially, I had to play recordings of their call, and then feed them the grits. Now they know to come to the sound of the shaken container. This makes them easier to catch to band them and put transmitters on them. Most of my study pateke, however, live in the more remote parts of the sanctuary, are much more wary of humans, and we’ve only ever seen them in the very early morning  with my motion-sensing cameras. So shaking my grits container, or even playing recordings of their calls, has not tricked them into showing themselves. To locate them, a specially-trained pateke search dog and handler came to the sanctuary to locate, band and affix transmitters. While the dog was able to locate a few locations where pateke had very recently been roosting, these sneaky pateke were able to slip away unnoticed before we could catch them. Thus, a Plan B is in the works.

Alfie: I hear that your dog got a bit overwhelmed with the smell of all our little-spotted kiwi – can she tell you which smells are kiwi and which are pateke?

Katie: Unfortunately, she could not let us know whether she was sniffing out a little-spotted kiwi or a pateke. So we did spend some time on “wild kiwi chases”.

Alfie: How many pateke do you think we have in Zealandia? And do they come and go over the fence?

Katie: It’s tough to say. But including the 18 birds that were initially released at Zealandia in 2000 and 2001, a total of 83 birds have been banded at Zealandia. While many are probably no longer around, we’ve spotted many other unbanded pateke. In terms of their comings and goings from the sanctuary, individuals vary greatly. Some don’t seem to leave their 2,100sqm territory, while others have been found in Brooklyn!

Alfie: Yes, I’ve been known to wing it over to Brooklyn too – nice neighbourhood! So now that we know how you’re going about doing your research, could you tell us a bit about why? What are you hoping to find out about our daffy ducks?

Katie: My main goal is to see how the pateke living in the forested parts of the sanctuary use their habitat. How big are their territories, what are their feeding patterns, where and what are they feeding on, and are their traveling patterns are cyclical? I’d like to compare them to the habitat use of the pateke that live mainly in the open water areas. Prior to the arrival of humans and other mammals to New Zealand, the pateke are believed to have lived in the forest, feeding along the streambeds at night. With the arrival of mammalian predators, pateke numbers diminished rapidly, as pateke hadn’t evolved any defense mechanism against such predators. Along with habitat loss, wild pateke populations are reduced to open water locations, where they can more readily escape predators. If I can determine whether they are better-suited to live in the forest, future conservations efforts could be geared more towards releasing pateke in forested areas fenced to exclude predators.

Alfie Kaka: Forest ducks! Who knew! As a forest parrot myself, it makes some of my kaka ancestral stories make more sense. I’m thankful that so many people are doing all they can to protect and preserve what habitat remains so that we all can flourish, and that researchers like you are finding out how best to do it. I can’t wait to find our how your Plan B goes – thanks for chatting Katie and keep in touch.

Katie Sheridan with “Patito” the Pateke after he was fitted with a harness and released at ZEALANDIA. Photo by Janice McKenna (main image)
Katie attaches a tracking harness to a pateke. Photo by Janice McKenna

 

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