Apple, wine grape, berry and plum orchards in Palmerston North, Levin and Ohau are in a pilot study of native birds that begins in November.

Scientists will catch and release native birds such as tui, korimako (bellbird), piwakawaka (fantail), riro riro (grey warbler) and tauhou (silvereye).

A team led by Plant & Food Research will undertake the study this summer to determine if native birds can potentially function as nature's pest control.

The team will use next-generation sequencing (NGS), a DNA-based method, to identify insect DNA from collected avian faeces, which will allow them to understand which insects the birds favour in their diet.

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Plant & Food Research project manager Karen Mason says birds could prove to be an excellent addition to the orchard ecosystem, particularly if they prefer to eat insect pests over insects that benefit growers.

"The NGS technology will help us better understand what insects native birds like to eat and whether they should be encouraged or discouraged from the orchard environment. This new technology has advantages over traditional methods, offering a fast, accurate and relatively non-invasive approach."

Apple, wine grape, berry and plum orchards are in a pilot study of native birds. Photo / File
Apple, wine grape, berry and plum orchards are in a pilot study of native birds. Photo / File

Mason said attracting birds to orchards may also have secondary benefits.

"Some of our nectivorous birds are highly territorial, so they may help keep other fruit-eating birds away.

"Our native species potentially have so much to offer. We should work with them to build a more sustainable future."

The study, in collaboration with Dr Isabel Castro from Massey University, is part of a wider vision to incorporate more native plants and animals into Aotearoa's horticultural production system.

"It can potentially lead to a win-win situation for industry, biodiversity, sustainability and native taonga conservation," Mason said.

"It is hoped the project will provide some insight into another potential tool for growers to reduce chemical pesticides required to grow crops, supporting New Zealand to meet the requirements of export markets, retailers and consumers to minimise environmental impact of food."

The team plans to expand this pilot study to look more in depth at various native species and the services they could provide, and establish collaborations with growers and Maori.