The birds are back in town

18 September 2019

Wellington’s wildlife continues to thrive as a result of sustained predator control efforts across the cities reserves and backyards.

Tūi image courtesy of Holly Neill

Tūi in Kōwhai - credit Holly Neill

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A recent report commissioned by Wellington City Council has found significant increases in the number of species of native birds found in the network of reserves throughout our eco-city.

The Council has engaged a team of professional ecologists to record birds for five-minutes at 100 permanent count-stations across Wellington city reserves since in 2011. The annual counts provide a high-level picture of how native birds are doing by monitoring the trends in diversity, abundance and distribution.

Since 2011 there has been a substantial increase in the proportion of bird species ranked as Nationally Threatened or ‘At Risk’ in Wellington City. There has also been a significant increase in the average number of native forest bird species encountered during the survey, which has been driven by significant increases in five endemic bird species, namely: tūī, kākā, kererū, tīeke and kākāriki.

These results show that the populations of native forest birds in Zealandia, together with the increasing levels of predator control being carried out in parks, reserves and suburban areas throughout the city, are creating improved opportunities for local residents and visitors to encounter a wider range of New Zealand’s native forest bird species in the heart of New Zealand’s capital city.

Michelle Frank, Council’s Manager of Urban Ecology Team, is excited by the return of birds to our city. “We want to congratulate our volunteers and partners for all the hard work trapping predators, planting trees and controlling weeds in recent years. We are so lucky to be witnessing the return of these manu taonga to our city.

“Wellington is one of the few cities which is seeing nature return worldwide. We are bucking the trend globally, as across the world biodiversity is generally declining,” adds Michelle.

James Willcocks, Predator Free Wellington Project Manager says “These results support what we are hearing from our community. We are getting more and more reports of people noticing native birds at their place. People are stoked when they see the first piwaiwaka in their garden or see falcon soaring above, my favourite is when people see gecko in their letterbox. Local kids are getting to experience these incredible native species where they live and learn. This is something we could only have dreamed of just a few years ago. It’s really fantastic that we are able to measure a significant improvement in the city’s wildlife. To me this report shows that the ecological health of the city is rebounding and the community effort is making a big difference.”   

What you can do to help

Summary of findings

  • Tūī are now common and widespread in Wellington City, and were recorded from the majority of five-minute bird count stations each year. Tūī (endemic to NZ) are now the most common native bird in Wellington. Tūī are now overtaking the silvereye/tauhou (a native which also occurs in Australia). When visiting a reserve, it is more than twice as likely to see tūī now than in 2011.
  • The chance to see kākā, kererū and tīeke in the cities reserves has roughly trebled since 2011.
  • Kākā are now commonly encountered in central Wellington, particularly in the suburbs of Karori, Wadestown, Ngaio, Kelburn, Te Aro and Brooklyn. They are also continuing to extend their range into more northern suburbs such as Johnsonville, and more eastern suburbs such as Miramar.
  • Kererū encounter rates are highest in reserves containing original native forest habitat, such as Otari-Wilton Bush and Khandallah Park, but they are also frequently observed in adjacent suburban areas.
  • Tieke are largely restricted to Zealandia and to forested reserves less than 1-2 km from Zealandia’s pest-proof boundary fence, so this increase in encounter rates is likely to be a result of ongoing improvements in the mammalian predator control being carried out in forested reserves adjacent to Zealandia.
  • Beyond Zealandia, red-crowned kākāriki are now established in Wright’s Hill reserve, Otari-Wilton Bush and Khandallah Park, Huntleigh Park and possibly also the Wellington Botanic Gardens. Kākāriki are sparsely distributed throughout Wellington City, in both native forest and suburban habitats. The likelihood of encountering kākāriki has increased more than ten times since 2011.
  • Whiteheads are largely restricted to Zealandia and to forest reserves within 1-2 km of Zealandia’s boundary fence, however they may also have recently colonised Trelissick Park and Prince of Wales Park.
  • Toutouwai/NI robins are largely restricted to Zealandia and to native forest habitats within 1-2 km of Zealandia’s pest-proof boundary fence.