Construction workers are making sure they don’t wake the baby, or in this case disturb the nest, of Tom the kiwi and the eggs he is sitting on.
While Tom is looking after a pair of eggs laid by his partner Jackie, the Te Ara o Te Ata: Mt Messenger Bypass Alliance construction team are steering clear of the nest, focusing on other jobs in the project to deliver a safer and more resilient 6km section of State Highway 3 in North Taranaki.
The team has created a 40-metre work exclusion zone to allow Tom to nest in peace as he sits on the eggs waiting for them to hatch.
Tom is one of 17 kiwi in the area that, thanks to transmitters on their legs, are being monitored by Alliance ecologists. The monitoring allows the team to determine their territory sizes and identify scenarios such as this one, where Tom is clearly incubating eggs.
Alliance environmental manager Leigh Old says the team could tell that Tom was sitting on eggs due to his reduced activity at night.
“As soon as we knew he had the eggs, we put the exclusion zone in place so he can incubate in peace.”
The monitoring data gives a range of information, sent through to a hand-held receiver, including data on when the bird is feeding and how long any particular kiwi has been out each night. The project team also carry out regular sweeps of the area with a kiwi conservation dog to check no other kiwi have moved into any of the construction areas.
Now Tom’s nest and eggs have been identified, he will be given at least 40 days to incubate them in peace before the eggs are safely lifted and moved to the Crombie Lockwood Kiwi Burrow in Wairakei for hatching, says Leigh.
“They have a skilled team there who replicate the natural kiwi egg incubation process to ensure a high chance of chick survival. After hatching, the chicks are cared for until they reach about 1kg, when they’re big and strong enough to fight off stoats.”
Once the young kiwis reach that stage, they will be brought back to their home area and released into a pest-controlled section in the project area she says, well away from any construction activity.
At present, kiwi are at risk from an abundance of pests in the forest around the project area, including stoats which prey on kiwi chicks, and rats and possums which eat the fruit that native birds depend on for food.
Alliance manager Tony Pink says the project’s kiwi monitoring work is part of a broader commitment to deliver major environmental benefits to a forest that has been seriously damaged by predators and pests such as rats, stoats, possums, pigs and goats.
“Without doubt this is an environmental project as much as a roading project. Whether we’re constructors, ecologists, labourers, tangata tiaki cultural monitors, engineers, office staff or any other role on the Alliance team, we are all so proud to be part of a project with such a major commitment to the environment around us.”
When it comes to caring for our national bird, people from all industries and walks of life should take on the responsibility, says Save the Kiwi executive director Michelle Impey.
“Kiwi used to live all over the country and numbered in their millions, and groups and organisations are working incredibly hard to return kiwi to places where they’ve been locally extinct for a long time.”
She is pleased with the response by Alliance to the discovery of the nesting bird.
“News like this, that a portion of a significant roading project has essentially been put on pause to prioritise this taonga species and create space for active kiwi conservation is incredibly uplifting. New Zealand needs more organisations that are willing to put conservation at the forefront of its operations.”