The NZ fairy tern (tara iti) is the country's most at risk breeding bird - with its nesting in shells on tidal beaches along with animal interference among the biggest risk to its continued survival.

Humans are also part of the problem, but also part of the solution, and next week humans will use machinery including helicopters to help build new nesting sites for the birds near Mangawhai.

New Zealand's most endangered birds will receive a helping hand to their upcoming breeding season with the new man-made shell nesting sites at Mangawhai and Papakanui (north of Auckland) next week.

New Zealand Defence Force helicopters will be used to help create the nests, with flying at Te Arai, Mangawhai from Monday to Wednesday and Papakanui Wednesday to Friday.


Flying will last all day, weather dependent, and residents and visitors are asked to stay clear of the operation while the vital work is under way.

Fairy terns build their nests on exposed, low-lying areas of shell-covered sand and the new sites make them safer from weather events, with next week's work funded by The Shorebirds Trust.

Northland group to pull fairy terns back from brink of extinction
Season's greetings - first fairy tern chick hatched in Northland

The fairy tern is a small tern with pale grey upper parts and white under parts, with the rump and forked tail also white. The wings have a dark grey outer web on the outer primary.

Breeding adults have a completely yellow-orange bill, and a black cap covering the crown and nape. The cap extends forward to surround the eye, forming an irregular patch in front of it, but never reaching the bill.

NZ fairy tern facts

The New Zealand fairy tern numbers approximately 40 birds and fewer than 12 breeding pairs. It is New Zealand's rarest breeding bird, and is at considerable risk of extinction due to a variety of threats including introduced predators and human disturbance.

Fairy terns nest at four sites in Northland at Waipū, Mangawhai and Papakanui sandspits, and Pakiri River mouth (one pair since 2003). After breeding, the terns visit harbours and estuaries between Auckland and Whangārei, but mostly Kaipara Harbour.

Elsewhere, fairy terns breed in Australia and New Caledonia.



• Human disturbance including vehicle and foot damage to nests, people walking dogs, and general interference keeping birds off nests.

• Residential, pastoral and plantation developments.

• Predation by mammal pests and gulls, especially during nesting.

• Floods, high tides and storms.

• Invasive plants like marram grass, lupins and wilding pines, can degrade nesting areas.