13 Jan 2018

Return of tītī heralds man-made colony's success

12:09 pm on 13 January 2018

The tītī has come home to roost.

A translocated fledging tītī climbing a tree for its maiden flight on the Maungaharuru Range

A translocated fledging tītī climbing a tree for its maiden flight on the Maungaharuru Range Photo: Supplied / DOC

Once, millions of tītī birds - also known as Cook's petrel - dominated the landscape of the Maungaharuru Range inland from Napier.

When flocks took off the beating of their collective wings would echo around the hills, leading to the range's name - which translates as "the mountain that rumbled and roared".

But when mammalian predators were introduced to the area, the population was decimated.

Five years ago the conservation group Poutiri Ao ō Tāne settled on an ambitious plan to bring the tītī back to Hawkes Bay.

More than 100 of the birds were translocated from a colony on Little Barrier Island back to Maungaharuru in 2013, settling in a custom-built colony which the conservationists hoped the tītī would bond with.

They had to be brought over as chicks, because the birds - which are deep-water foragers - take off for up to five years at a time after fledging.

A sound system was set up at the range to replicate a colony; hundreds of barriers were built, and a predator-proof fence was erected around the 1.9 hectare enclosure.

Over the next three years volunteers continued to bring tītī across, until about 400 of the birds had been at least partially raised at the colony.

And, just before Christmas, the first prodigal tītī made it back home.

The leader of the tītī project, Wendy Rakete-Stones, said she had no idea if it would succeed, as it was a highly experimental idea.

It was hugely exciting to have a graduate tītī return to its man-made nest, she said.

"We'd all worked very hard on this project, and when you have those exciting successes it makes it all worthwhile."

Department of Conservation senior biodiversity ranger Denise Fastier said it was a triumph.

"I wasn't sure they would return, but this little tītī showing up after so many years at sea is the first sign of its success."

Ms Rakete-Stones said she expected more tītī to return in dribs and drabs over the coming months and years.

A similar programme is being run at Cape Sanctuary.

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A tītī, or Cook's petrel, in flight Photo: Flickr / @angrysunbird