Endangered bird may be more at home in lowland environment

Published: Thu 11 Sep 2014 11:49 AM
Endangered bird may be more at home in lowland environment
A native bird long thought to be most at home in Fiordland tussock may actually be more comfortable in wetlands and a Waikato University student has won a scholarship to find out where takahe prefer to live.
Masters student Tehani Withers has been awarded a $1500 Tertiary Achievement in Pacific Ako (TAPA) Award to research the habitat requirements of South Island takahe and is comparing open farmland scattered with few mixed gullies and small wetlands on Motutapu Island with the forest of Maungatautari. The aim of this comparative study is to create a template for takahe habitat requirements.
When takahe were rediscovered in 1948 they were found in a mountainous tussock environment and it was assumed that was their preferred habitat. However, pairs have been translocated to many pest-free, off-shore islands and this translocated population has been steadily increasing.
Takahe pairs have also been translocated to fenced mainland sites, such as Maungatautari.
There they were temporarily housed in the forested Southern Enclosure and surprisingly thrived in the environment.
Ms Withers’ research will consider whether takahe were originally a wetland bird species and were rediscovered in tussock grassland because that was their last refuge from predators.
This study will also consider whether takahe might also have lived in forested habitats.
She will compare the behaviour and diet of birds on Motutapu Island (mostly pasture) and Maungatautari (almost entirely forest) during the study.
Ms Withers has first-hand experience with the birds, having recently been involved with the release of two takahe on Motutapu.
Ms Withers and her father – who was visiting at the time – were on Motutapu when the pair were being released and “because we were from Tahiti - and there is an island with the name Motutapu in French Polynesia – iwi asked me and my dad to release each bird,” she says.
She hopes the scholarship will allow her to establish a general plan for takahe habitat requirements, including preferred plants, for the restoration and management of takahe habitats and to help breeding success.

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