Aotearoa is a land with a unique biodiversity of animals and plants. Unfortunately, over 4000 of our native species are now listed as threatened or at risk of extinction. Many of these are unobtrusive plants and tiny insects that most of us know nothing about. It's not always easy to care about something you have never seen or heard of. But that's not the case with our native birds. They are universally loved and treasured. Around one third of New Zealand's native bird species are now threatened with extinction and dozens more are endangered. Loss of habitat and introduced predators such as stoats and rats have taken a huge toll over the last 100 years and more.

Margie Beautrais.
Margie Beautrais.

Taking action to preserve and protect species that we love is something New Zealanders of all ages can put energy into. Whether it's trapping rats and possums in your neighbourhood, planting bird-friendly trees or donating time or money to organisations that care for native birds, we can all do our bit. Our national love of native birds really shines during the New Zealand Bird of the Year competition, organised by the NZ Forest and Bird Protection Society. There are 168 native bird species and none of them have won the competition twice. This year the campaign will run from Monday October 28 to Sunday November 10.

Last year's winner was the beautifully coloured, plump and sometimes drunken kereruū. These lovely birds have a reputation for gorging themselves on so much fruit they can find it difficult to fly. Kererū, once abundant throughout Aotearoa, congregated in flocks of over 100 birds to feed on seasonal fruit and flowers. Being large, plump and easily caught, kererū were a very important and carefully managed food resource for Māori. Although their populations have drastically declined over the last 100 years, kererū are not listed as an endangered species so we still have a chance to help local populations recover.

Kererū have adapted reasonably well to life in urban environments such as parks and gardens. They will happily strip the blossoms off your peach trees and help themselves to guavas and other small fruit in your home orchard. Last week, citizen scientists had a chance to help monitor their range and population by taking part in the Great Kererū Count. The survey results when analysed will show how widely distributed and numerous the species is, what they are feeding on and also where they are absent from.

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Nationwide events such as the New Zealand Bird of the Year, and citizen science projects such as the Great Kererū Count help to raise the public profile of native birds and encourage people to care about these iconic species.

The NZ Bird of the Year campaign is about to begin, with humour, rivalry, and clever marketing by respective campaign managers for each native bird. We have some really special endangered birds in the Whanganui region, such as the tīeke (saddleback) and the whio (blue duck) who need to have their turn in the limelight. If you want to join a campaign team for either of these, or for your own special favourite bird, you can register your interest at www.forestandbird.org.nz/bird-year-2019.

Margie Beautrais is an Educator at Whanganui Regional Museum