A New Zealand seabird, which was thought to be extinct for over 150 years, has been found breeding on Little Barrier Island.

The sparrow-sized New Zealand storm petrel is critically endangered and was thought extinct until a sighting in 2003.

But a team of Auckland University researchers has found the species breeding on Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

Chris Gaskin and Doctor Matt Rayner, who have been leading the research, have been camping on the Poor Knights Islands, Mokohinau Islands and Little Barrier Island to track the breeding sites with radio receivers.


"It's like looking for a needle in the haystack," said Gaskin.

Twenty-four birds have been caught this year so far, when they've been fitted with 1g radio transmitters. Team members based at a remote camp on Little Barrier Island were able to track the birds' movements, following the signals until they came to a stop.

"The site being monitored is very fragile and with birds at a delicate stage in their breeding cycle. We are using automated equipment for the most part and maintaining a hands-off approach, although team members visiting the vicinity have also been keeping watch," Rayner said.

"On Friday morning a bird was discovered on the ground, possibly having just left its burrow. At the same time team members detected another bird, this one most probably on a nest," said Gaskin.

Researchers will stay on the island for several weeks where aerial surveys are also being used to establish population size and distribution.

"It's an amazing result for our enthusiastic and dedicated team," said Rayner.

There has been a lot of speculation about where the sea petrel breeds since it was rediscovered in 2003.

- nzherald.co.nz