An ambitious project to restore wildlife in the eastern Bay of Islands is reaching one of the biggest milestones of its ten-year history today with the release of up to 50 North Island robins.

The diminutive, curious birds, also known as toutouwai, are due to be released on Moturua, the second largest of the islands between Russell and Cape Brett.

They were caught in Pureora Forest in the central North Island this week by a team of volunteers aided by iwi and Department of Conservation staff.

The translocation is part of Project Island Song, a community-led initiative to return vanished birdlife to the Bay.


Richard Robbins, of the conservation group Guardians of the Bay of Islands, hoped the toutouwai would be only the first of about 20 species returned over the next 15-20 years.

Also on the group's wishlist for re-introduction were the tieke (saddleback), whiteheads, bellbirds and takahe, as well as invertebrates such as the flax snail and reptiles such as the tuatara and Northland green gecko.

Catching the robins had gone well with 25 males and 13 females caught by noon yesterday. The volunteers hoped to catch a few more females to even the numbers up.

They would be driven to Paihia overnight in individual pet boxes adapted with perches, then taken to the island on an Explore ferry this morning.

Hapu from both Rawhiti and Pureora were closely involved in the translocation, Mr Robbins said. The skills they were learning would be invaluable in future transfers.

Toutouwai were good fliers in the bush but were reluctant to cross open spaces, so transfers to other islands could follow.

Project Island Song started in 2004. Poison drops in 2009, followed by intensive trapping and monitoring, have made the islands pest-free.

The main islands involved are Motuarohia (Roberton), Moturua, Motukiekie, Urupukapuka, Waewaetorea and Okahu.


Pateke (brown teal) were released in 2012 but that was a return of birds removed during the pest extermination phase rather than a re-introduction.

Mr Robbins said the translocation had been made possible by support from businesses, Air New Zealand Environment Trust and the ASB Community Trust.