Top predator makes spectacular return to capital

Published: Fri 18 Dec 2009 02:15 PM
New Zealand's top predator makes spectacular return to the capital
Conservation staff at the groundbreaking ZEALANDIA eco-sanctuary in Wellington believe they have found the first New Zealand falcons to have hatched in the city since the species disappeared as a breeding population in the Seventies.

Click to enlarge Photo by Tom Lynch, ZEALANDIA/Karori Sanctuary Trust.
"It's an extremely significant discovery," said ZEALANDIA conservation manager Raewyn Empson
"Although there are quite a few breeding pairs in the Hutt Vally and Eastbourne, they haven't bred in Wellington city for decades! And they are hanging around right next to the main track, so it really is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see these powerful predators up close and in their element"
This time last year, ZEALANDIA staff found the capital's first ever recorded nest, very close to where this year's fledgings are hanging out. Unfortunately, the nest had been abandoned before any eggs were laid. A second nest, this time with eggs in it, was found in July - incredibly early for falcons - but that also failed.
"It seems it might have been third time lucky for these falcons" said Ms Empson
"Fledging four healthy chicks is almost unheard of. It's a good indication that there's a lot of food around. Being re-colonized by falcons means  that ZEALANDIA has reached an exciting new stage in its restoration."
At the moment, the chicks are still being fed by the father. The male will call as he arrives with food and the youngsters will fly up to meet him whining. To train them how to hunt, he will drop the food for them to catch in mid air. More often than not, they will miss and he will dive to catch it before it hits the ground and then take it up and drop it again. But by May next year they will be New Zealand's most powerful native predators - able to take on species as large as black backed gulls, kereru and ducks.

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