Up to a hundred small songbirds are due to journey from an island in the Hauraki Gulf and make landfall in the iconic Whangarei Heads reserve.

Cheery, chirpy little popokatea, also known as whiteheads, have been extinct on the Whangarei mainland for 140 years.

But the new population won't be winging their way to their new home on Saturday. They'll be travelling by fast boat and air-conditioned van.

They are part of a translocation operation that has been 15 years in the planning - since Bream Head Conservation Trust (BHCT) habitat restoration programme began.


Saturday's release follows the successful assisted return last year of toutouwai (black robins).

This week's operation involves Bream Head Conservation Trust rangers and helpers trapping about 100 birds on the sanctuary island Tiritiri Matangi, using audio lures to attract them into mist nets.

"They will then be carefully measured and selected for relocation, banded for identification and housed in the island's aviary where they will be well looked after and checked around the clock," BHCT ranger Adam Willetts said.

If the weather and capture rates allow, the team aims to leave Tiritiri Matangi with the birds early on Saturday and drive boxes containing up to five birds each to the reserve's Peach Cove entry point off Whangarei Heads Rd.

On arrival - expected but not guaranteed to be at about 2pm to 2.30pm - their welcome will include a blessing that members of the public are welcome to share in before the bird boxes are taken up the steep track.

"The release site has spectacular views back to Mount Manaia and up Whangarei Harbour to (Matakohe) Limestone Island.

"The site will provide a great setting to watch these canopy flock birds released as a large single group, and to celebrate this achievement together as we watch them fly off to explore their new home," Mr Willetts said.

The small white and brown songbirds are usually heard before they are seen and are also known as bush canaries.


They have a compact body, short tail and bill and long legs. The head and under parts are whitish and upper parts, wings and tail are brown-grey. The bill, legs and eyes are dark.

"Releasing these sociable birds songbirds onto the reserve has been in the planning for several years and comprises the final component of the trust's first five-year restoration plan," trust chairman Greg Innes said.

It has involved NorthTec environmental studies students, who also helped with last year's toutouwai relocation. That project has already seen eight pair raise 19 fledglings to independence.