Thursday, April 25, 2024

Kākā no match for mistletoe as bird numbers spike

A doubling of kākā – drawn to mass flowering of native mistletoe – was a highlight of the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) annual bird count in the Landsborough valley last summer. 

The large native parrots joined the growing number of forest birds tallied as the Department’s long-running bird monitoring programmed marked 25 years.

Data shows eight native bird species have steadily increased in number over this time, while six other species remain stable. Overall native birdlife has more than doubled in this remote beech forest-clad valley.DOC Principal Scientist, Colin O’Donnell says it’s good news and evidence the approach to managing introduced predators is working well.

“The Landsborough is a showcase for how forests and wildlife respond when rats, stoats and possums are effectively managed long-term,” he said.

“Kākā were the standout in the most recent results with numbers doubling from the previous year – no doubt attracted by the mistletoe which was flowering in big splashes of red across the valley.

“Native birds are continuing to increase including species like pīpipi/brown creeper, tītitipounamu/ rifleman and kākāriki/yellow-crowned parakeet – 25 years on from when we first started counting them here.”

Mistletoe, which is highly attractive to possums, has also been monitored over the past 20 years. Results show there are healthy populations of both red and scarlet mistletoe with little evidence of possum browse.Kākā eat nectar, as well as fruit, seeds and insects, and are known to congregate when forest trees such as rātā or mistletoe flower.

Counts for the most common bird, mohua/yellowhead, appear to be flattening out with similar numbers over the past three years (485 in 2022, 517 in 2021 and 485 in 2020). This may mean they have reached ‘carrying capacity’ in this part of the valley, and additional birds are dispersing down valley and into the Haast and nearby valleys.

The Landsborough is a stronghold for mohua and likely to support more than 2,000 birds.

Predator control began in 1994 in the Landsborough and has since expanded to include extensive trapping and aerial applications of 1080 when rat numbers increase (seven treatments since 1998 – the last one in 2019). It’s a priority area for DOC’s national predator control programme.Replacement of the aging trap network with 280 new double-trap boxes is just about complete – the work of redeployed South Westland tourism workers funded through Jobs for Nature. These traps should last 20 years.

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