Forest mast significantly boosts breeding of rare kākāriki/parakeet

New Zealand’s rarest mainland forest bird, the kākāriki karaka/orange-fronted parakeet, is having its best breeding season in decades due to a beech seed bonanza, Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage said in Christchurch today.

“It is great news that this year there are more than three times the number of nests compared to previous years,” she said.

“This year’s epic breeding provides a much-needed boost to the kākāriki karaka population.

“There are at least 150 wild-born chicks so far this season, which is a potential doubling of the current population.”

Department of Conservation (DOC) field staff have found 31 kākāriki karaka nests in the wild in Canterbury this season - more than three times the number of recent years - and the birds are expected to keep nesting for several months yet. 

“This budgie sized native bird, a taonga species for Ngāi Tahu, eats plants and insects, and during a mast year, seeds dominate their diet. This year’s beech mast is looking like the biggest in more than 40 years.

“There has been so much seed on the beech trees the birds just keep on breeding with some parakeet pairs onto their fifth clutch of eggs.  When there’s no beech mast they typically have just one or two clutches.”

Eugenie Sage acknowledged the crucial role of the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch in producing captive-bred birds for release into the wild. Those birds are now successfully breeding in the wild.

“The orange-fronted kākāriki bred by the Trust have been a lifeline for the tiny Canterbury population and we’re now seeing the real dividends of all of the Trust’s hard work.  The vision and commitment to conservation of the late Lady Diana Isaac has been a boon for kākāriki.

“Over the coming months DOC will be focused on protecting the critically endangered kākāriki karaka from increased numbers of rats, stoats and feral cats, which are also expected to result from the beech mast.”

This year 62 kākāriki (37 from the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, 17 from Auckland Zoo and eight from Orana Wildlife Park) were released into the Hurunui South Branch with Christchurch Helicopters flying the precious cargo.  Most of these birds have survived and are showing signs of pairing up to breed.

DOC works in partnership with Ngāi Tahu to lead the orange-fronted kākāriki recovery programme, which includes extensive predator control in their mainland habitat, captive breeding and maintaining pest-free island populations.

The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust, Auckland Zoo, Orana Wildlife Park, Christchurch Helicopters and Canterbury University all provide crucial support for this programme.

The rarest of New Zealand’s six kākāriki species, orange-fronted parakeet is found only in the Hawdon and Poulter valleys in Arthur’s Pass National Park and Hurunui South Branch in Lake Sumner Forest Park.  A successful population has also been established on Blumine Island/Oruawairua in the Marlborough Sounds. The orange-fronted kākāriki population is estimated at 100-300.

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