Rare NZ bird settles into new home

By Zac Yates of the Wanganui Chronicle -
A female hihi takes in her new surroundings at Bushy Park. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle
A female hihi takes in her new surroundings at Bushy Park. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

One of New Zealand's rarest birds has taken to its new home in Wanganui with a song.

44 of the hihi or stitchbird - 22 male and 22 female - were released into Bushy Park yesterday morning to make it one of only three mainland hihi sanctuaries nationwide.

The birds were captured on Tiritiri Matangi island near Auckland last Saturday by a team of 13 including Department of Conservation and Massey University researchers and staff from Sydney's Taronga Zoo.

It's believed there are less than 3500 of the species left in New Zealand.

Around 100 people turned out in the brisk morning air to see the birds released from their transport boxes, including Bushy Park Trust chairperson Liz Tennet.

She said that once the birds flew into the bush several of them began to sing.

"It was awesome, and it was such a historic moment as there's only two other places where the hihi have successfully been transposed onto the mainland.

"I think them singing to us like that is a good sign."

The hihi project, which has been led by former trust chairman Allan Anderson, had been underway for about five years ensuring the park met the standards set for the tiny birds.

"Today has been the fruition of that process. We've installed food stations and nesting boxes for them which has been done by volunteers, and we've had to ensure the're able to enter a disease-free environment.

"We had a delay about a year because one of the birds was diagnosed with salmonella, but after some testing we established that wasn't a problem. It still set us back for a while."

Ms Tennet said many local businesses and individuals had contributed, as had a Saudi crown prince, but more donations would be needed.

"We've attached little radio transmitters to some of them, that cost about $10,000, and we'll be using aeroplanes or helicopters to monitor where they go. All the ongoing costs will need to be met somehow and we're always happy to hear from people who want to help with money or time, even if it's just two hours a month," she said.

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