25 Feb 2016

Taiko take off

From Our Changing World, 9:30 pm on 25 February 2016

“Touch wood, it looks like it’s going to be an amazing year for taiko.”
Mike Bell, Chatham Island Taiko Trust

One of the world’s most endangered seabirds, the Chatham Island taiko, is having a bumper breeding season.

There are just 25 known breeding pairs out of an estimated  population of 120-or-so known birds, and the 21 chicks produced this season eclipse the bird’s previous best breeding effort of 13.

“It’s awesome,” says Mike Bell from Wildlife Management International and the Chatham Island Taiko Trust.

A Chatham Island taiko chick in its underground nest

A Chatham Island taiko chick in its underground nest Photo: David Boyle / Chatham Island Taiko Trust

Taiko, which used to be known as magenta petrel, were thought extinct until they were rediscovered by Davy Crockett and a team of ornithologists 38 years ago. Since then it has been a long slow effort to locate taiko nests in the wild, and carry out predator control to try and improve chick survival. Feral pigs, feral cats and rats are a problem.

Between 2007 and 2011 all known taiko chicks were transferred into the Sweetwater Reserve, with the idea that they would return there to breed as adults. Sweetwater Reserve is on Liz and Bruce Tuanui’s farm, and it is surrounded by a predator-proof fence and is predator-free.

“The return rate of those taiko chicks to Sweetwater has been absolutely phenomenal,” says Mike. “We’ve had a return rate of up to 80%, which is an unheard of success rate for a seabird translocation. Those birds are just starting to breed, and we’ve got six breeding pairs, which has been a real boost for numbers of taiko.”

Mike says he’s also excited that there are already four more pairs of young birds that should breed in the next year or two. Many single birds are also visiting the reserve and will hopefully soon find mates.

The number of breeding pairs in the wild, in the Tuku Nature Reserve and adjoining private land, are also on the rise, from 15 previously to 20.

Twenty six eggs were laid this breeding season and 23 chicks hatched but unfortunately two chicks died early on, probably as a result of inexperienced young parents.

Alison Ballance visited the Chatham Islands in 2010. She visited the taiko breeding area in the Tuku Nature Reserve, talked with David Crockett about the momentous rediscovery of the taiko, and visited the Sweetwater Reserve.

View across rough farmland to a small bush remnant

The predator-proof fence of the Sweetwater Reserve is just visible in the bush at the top of the photo, Chatham Island Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance