New Zealand fairy tern (tara-iti) Project

Forest & Bird is working to create an alternative breeding site for our critically endangered New Zealand Fairy Tern on the Kaipara harbour. 

Fairy tern chick, Steffi Ismar

Fairy tern chick, Steffi Ismar

The New Zealand Fairy Tern – which has teetered on the brink of extinction since the 1970s – is struggling to find a home.

They once nested right around the North island, however now it has only four breeding sites in Northland and Auckland – all of which lie adjacent to large coastal developments. 

Like us, fairy terns are beach-goers. However, they’re easily frightened and become quickly stressed, so disturbance by visiting beach-goers, dogs and vehicles can cause them to abandon their nests, or chicks.

It can even prevent them from looking for a mate, or breeding!

Predation by cats, ferrets and stoats during the breeding season has worsened their population outlook, and although many of the sites have pest control, it’s people that remain their biggest threat.

Given their small genetic pool and the rampant development around their breeding sites the risk of extinction is especially high.

What’s also alarming about their population is that there are only 8-10 breeding pairs – only 20% of their population have formed breeding pairs, when over 70% of their population is at breeding age.

This has led us to initiate a project to assess the four current breeding sites, and look to create an alternative site that is people-free and pest-free.  

Since then, Forest & Bird has identified a suitable breeding 15 hectare site on the Kaipara Harbour.  It was a breeding site in the 1930s and a roosting site on the eastern shore of the spit until 2000.

Recently, we received the third allocation from three years of funding from Foundation North (formerly ASB Community Trust). The work so far has involved importing (mainly by helicopter) and spreading several tonnes of shell and deploying some decoys to attract overwintering birds. We have also sprayed weeds on an area that will provide a high tide roost for wading birds.

If all goes to plan we hope to have birds breeding on the site by summer 2016/17, which will mean that we will need to seek further funding.