In Māori tradition, moreporks, or ruru, are considered watchful guardians from the spirit world.

In the last month, the small native owls have attracted their own guardians in Rotorua - St Mary's Catholic School pupils.

Jill Dinniss' class of Year 6s have been making nesting boxes from scratch, using wood, paint, tools, screws and plenty of teamwork.

St Mary's Catholic School students (from left) Te Ariki Rogers, 10, Chloe Jarmey, 9, Lily Morris, 10, and Gabbi Guevarra, 9 with their morepork boxes. Photo / Andrew Warner
St Mary's Catholic School students (from left) Te Ariki Rogers, 10, Chloe Jarmey, 9, Lily Morris, 10, and Gabbi Guevarra, 9 with their morepork boxes. Photo / Andrew Warner

The project started when the director/founder of the Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre, Debbie Stewart, and assistant manager, Heidi Stook, visited Room 3 with a ruru named Cricket.

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The non-profit centre hatches eggs, helps birds that are hurt, and educates New Zealanders and overseas visitors about native birds that hunt.

Room 3 students start to build a nesting box. Photo / Supplied
Room 3 students start to build a nesting box. Photo / Supplied

Moreporks are not considered threatened, but the Department of Conservation believes their population is in gradual decline due to predation, loss of habitat, and some poisons.

Wingspan raised Cricket from an egg.

Heidi Stook visits Room 3, with Cricket. Photo / Supplied
Heidi Stook visits Room 3, with Cricket. Photo / Supplied

Jade Moller, 9, didn't know what a morepork was until Cricket visited.

She told the Rotorua Daily Post "it had really bright yellow eyes and its head kept rotating, it looked like it was dancing".

Heidi Stook visits Room 3, with Cricket. Photo / Supplied
Heidi Stook visits Room 3, with Cricket. Photo / Supplied

In the days after, classmates started on their nesting boxes, armed with building instructions.

Bunnings, parents and the school's Parent Teacher Association helped them on their way.

Room 3 students start to build a nesting box. Photo / Supplied
Room 3 students start to build a nesting box. Photo / Supplied

The pupils learned how to safely use drills and screws, and then painted and decorated the boxes.

They were sold for $20 each at the school's Gala Day last Thursday, with all proceeds going back to Wingspan, to sponsor live birds.

Nesting boxes for sale at the St Mary's Gala Day. Photo / Kim Gillespie
Nesting boxes for sale at the St Mary's Gala Day. Photo / Kim Gillespie

Te Ariki Rogers, 10, said the highlight of the project was learning how to use tools with his mates.

"We built the boxes with small entrances so pests like possums and stoats can't get in."

A special visit by 'Cricket' to St Mary's Catholic School Rotorua. Learning all about Ruru Morepork owl :)

Posted by Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust on Thursday, 21 February 2019

They are best placed in shaded areas with trees, on a fence in the corner of a property, or on a building.

Solar lights below the box can help attract bugs and more moreporks, and box owners will need to replace the wood chips once a year.

Room 3 students with their stall the St Mary's Gala Day. Photo / Supplied
Room 3 students with their stall the St Mary's Gala Day. Photo / Supplied

Dinniss was delighted she and her class had branched out to learn something new and help the community at the same time.

"The class has been very excited throughout the process, and I am really pleased we have raised awareness about the centre, and a bird species, that some people don't know about."

Heidi Stook visits Room 3, with Cricket. Photo / Supplied
Heidi Stook visits Room 3, with Cricket. Photo / Supplied

For more information about nesting boxes, contact Wingspan, or Room 3 at St Mary's Catholic School.