The New Zealand falcon or kārearea is a rare sight, even in the rural back-blocks.

Debbie Stewart from Wingspan, an organisation trying to save our falcons, says they're more and more under threat.

"Alarmingly, out of all the falcons that come to Wingspan each year the majority of them have injuries caused by deliberate shooting," Stewart said.

"This is from people who don't know or don't care so it shows that public awareness is important to be able to celebrate the wonderful biodiversity that we have within this country."

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Several species of endangered birds are given a second chance at life, after being rescued and cared for by Wingspan.

Wingspan in Rotorua saving NZ's raptor birds. Photo / Gavin Ogden
Wingspan in Rotorua saving NZ's raptor birds. Photo / Gavin Ogden

The centre was established by Stewart in 2002, who has since been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her work.

"We deal with the New Zealand raptors, the birds of prey - and that includes the ruru, the morepork owl; and the kahu – our most common bird of prey.

"But our focus remains on the New Zealand falcon, kārearea," Stewart said. "Our focus for New Zealand falcon is important, there's not many of them remaining in New Zealand so they need all the help they can get."

Kārearea are rarer than the kiwi. While there's around 70,000 kiwi remaining - there's fewer than 10,000 kārearea.

To help rehabilitate the falcons, Wingspan uses the Ro-Crow, a propeller-driven polystyrene aircraft made to look like a magpie.

Heidi Stook and the Ro-Crow. Photo / Gavin Ogden
Heidi Stook and the Ro-Crow. Photo / Gavin Ogden

"We usually use traditional falconry techniques which involve swinging a lure around and getting the birds to fly towards the lure, re-enacting the hunt of prey. We're only able to swing the lure a certain way," said Heidi Stook, Wingspan manager.

"With the Ro-Crow, or Ro-Magpie, we're able to fly it like the falcon's prey would fly and we're completely removed from the picture so it's solely about the pursuit of the bird without the falconer involved."

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Learning to fly the Ro-Crow is no walk in the park.

"The first couple of months, it's more damage from the pilot," Stook admitted. "There's a few crashes involved while you get the swing of things.

"I've realised how smart the falcons are. They use the wind to their advantage. They understand the wind something fierce and the sun as well. They'll use the sun to be able to block their prey's vision of them, which they do with the Ro-Magpie as well."

Before being released back into the wild, the birds have to be fit enough to survive and this is where the Ro-Crow shines.

"New Zealand falcon are pursuit predators so they chase their prey. With the Ro-Magpie we're able to fly it like prey. We're able to get the birds on the wing for a longer period of time which will increase their fitness. So it's all about the fitness when it comes to rehabilitation and re-releasing the falcon," Stook said.

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