Four years ago, John Key stood before a crowd at Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellington and declared war.
"By 2050, every single part of New Zealand will be completely free of rats, stoats and possums."
Is it possible to achieve such an audacious goal? What will it take? To borrow a phrase from our current Prime Minister, it will take a team of five million.
Across the country backyard battles are quietly waging. Volunteers are setting traps, laying poison and analysing chew cards – baited tags to identify nibbling predators.
My own Auckland neighbourhood is a template of this nationwide battle. Kaipatiki is out to catch its Most Wanted, that is, every invader in our reserves. The community group spearheading this effort, Pest Free Kaipatiki, deploys hundreds of locals through Predator Blitzes and citizen science events.
Volunteers are motivated by the same mission – to bring back the birds. There are perhaps, some early victories. Sightings of icons like the kaka are on the up, frequently photographed in backyards through kitchen windows, delighting everyone.
Whanganui, of course, holds great significance for our birdlife.
Bushy Park is home to one of only three mainland sanctuaries for hihi nationwide. Whanganui National Park contains the largest remaining population of western brown kiwi and is one of only seven strongholds for the endangered whio, our river-dwelling blue duck.
The whio is celebrated on our $10 note alongside Kate Sheppard, but its ubiquity ends there.
Most of us have never seen a whio in the flesh, let alone admired its bright yellow eyes, slate-blue plumage and distinctive 'lip' – the only duck in the world with a fleshy membrane at the tip of its bill, enabling it to forage for aquatic larvae.
Amazing adaptations see the whio survive in conditions that would test a hardened white-water rafter. This torrent duck is an "indicator" species. If there are whio in a river, then the river is as clean as they come.
The whio's lack of quack also sets it apart - Māori gave the whio its name from an onomatopoeic rendition of the male's melancholic whistle. Females by contrast, emit a low, raspy growl.
Our blue duck once ranged both main islands, with territories running the length of rivers from maunga to moana. Today, just 3000 remain.
Their decline was noted by a Westland surveyor as far back as 1891: "The ferrets have not got among the birds on this river evidently, as kakapos are squealing about in hundreds. Will have to tie up the dog if I don't want the camp full of corpses in the morning. But what is up with the blue ducks? When up here before they were in hundreds, now I have only seen one, and he travelled as if Old Nick was after him."
In 2000, DoC set up cameras over whio nests in two Fiordland sites - one where stoat trapping was in place, the other without any predator control. In the second site, every single nest was raided by stoats.
A just-published study reveals that our cherished birds are now closer to extinction than they were 40 years ago. Two-thirds of our birds are worse off, while just 14 per cent are faring better.
We are the last generation that can save them. The Predator Free New Zealand goal is a call to arms and without it, the most we can hope for are pictures of our taonga on a $10 note.
Anne-Elise Smithson is an environmentalist and former Auckland Council local board member.