Bad weather spells poor breeding season for critically-endangered fairy tern

13 Jan 2012

Poor weather in the upper North Island this summer has hampered breeding efforts of our most endangered shorebird – the fairy tern. 

“This season four chicks have fledged bringing the total population to about 45 individuals. It’s quite disappointing because we were expecting to have almost double that number of chicks,” says Department of Conservation Ranger Dave Wilson. 

 Having bounced back from eight individuals back in 1983, the population is now crawling back from the brink of extinction with help of DOC and community groups such as Forest & Bird. 

Over the past summer five DOC Fairy Tern Wardens have been patrolling the upper North island beaches where these endangered birds reside - Pakiri, Mangawhai Spit, Waipu and Papakanui - to ensure the survival of their young. 

If a couple is seen to be nesting, wardens will stump up pest control, perform egg transfers, and in some cases, incubate rejected eggs at Auckland Zoo. 

However despite these efforts, rainstorms contributed to the loss of several chicks. 

Fairy Tern Warden at the Kaipara Harbour, Kelly Smith, says predators are one of the key reasons these birds are struggling to survive. Every day, she checks over 100 traps. 

“It’s not just ferrets, cats and stoats that are their problem though, they’ve also got to deal with beachgoers and their dogs. Typically if they feel threatened they’ll leave their nests to defend it and in the midday heat their eggs will cook in the sun,” she says. 

Another large threat to the fairy tern is coastal development along these popular beaches, something that is being fought by DOC and Forest & Bird. 

Having just won an environment court ruling to stop the development of a 200 bed hotel in Te Arai, near Mangawhai in 2010, Forest & Bird is now battling a down-sized version of this proposed development.  

It also recently won a resource consent hearing to stop the removal of mangroves on Mangawhai beach to retain this crucial feeding ground, however negotiations are still continuing, as the proponents plan to appeal to the Environment Court.