It’s a thin green line that di­vides a lush land­scape alive with bird­song and the ex­tinc­tion of many of our beloved na­tive species. Elisabeth Easther meets three of the foot sol­diers in the bat­tle for our birds.

North & South - - Contents - BY ELISABETH EASTHER

Con­ser­va­tion­ist Don Mer­ton called our na­tive birds New Zealand’s “na­tional mon­u­ments”. Now they’re in a bat­tle against ex­tinc­tion.

New Zealan­ders love birds. Most specif­i­cally, our na­tive species. We self-iden­tify as Ki­wis, drink a beer called Tui and last year, more than 50,000 of us cast votes for the Bird of the Year, an event so pop­u­lar that many species have cam­paign man­agers.

Birds fea­ture on all of our ban­knotes, while var­i­ous avian ex­pe­ri­ences and sanc­tu­ar­ies at­tract huge num­bers of vis­i­tors, both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional. Sirocco the kākāpō has close to 17,000 Twit­ter fol­low­ers, and more than 70,000 of us sup­port the Royal For­est and Bird Pro­tec­tion So­ci­ety, New Zealand’s largest and old­est in­de­pen­dent con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion.

We go to in­cred­i­ble lengths to pro­tect our most vul­ner­a­ble feath­ered crea­tures; it’s im­pos­si­ble to es­ti­mate how many hours are spent each year, both paid and vol­un­tary, on fos­ter­ing the sur­vival of things with wings. And we’re world lead­ers in bird re­search, in spite of it be­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to fund even the wor­thi­est projects.

The late Don Mer­ton was one of the world’s most in­flu­en­tial con­ser­va­tion­ists, cred­ited with sav­ing more than his fair share of New Zealand’s – and the planet’s – rare species from ex­tinc­tion. He called them our na­tional mon­u­ments. “They are our Tower of Lon­don, our Arc de Tri­om­phe, our pyra­mids. We don’t have this an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture that we can be proud of and swoon over in won­der, but what we do have is some­thing that is far, far older than that,” he told the NZ Lis­tener in 2015.

“No one else has kiwi, no one else has kākāpō. They have been around for mil­lions of years, if not thou­sands of mil­lions of years. And once they are gone, they are gone for­ever. And it’s up to us to make sure they never die out.”

Yet in spite of this col­lec­tive pas­sion for birds, a 2017 re­port from the Com­mis­sioner for the En­vi­ron­ment, Taonga of an Is­land Na­tion, warned that four out of five of our 168 na­tive bird species are in peril, with some sit­ting on the verge of ex­tinc­tion.

On land, there were once 91 species of bird; close to 50 of those are now gone. And, by cur­rent es­ti­mates, more than 25 mil­lion na­tive birds are killed an­nu­ally by in­tro­duced preda­tors. Many thou­sands of seabirds also per­ish each year, mostly through the im­pact of com­mer­cial fish­eries.

Heed­ing Mer­ton’s ad­vice to do what they can, and in the face of such grim statis­tics, these three ded­i­cated con­ser­va­tion­ists are a few of the many do­ing their best to pro­tect some of our most vul­ner­a­ble na­tive species. SINCE THE ar­rival of hu­mans in New Zealand, our na­tive species have faced a bar­rage of chal­lenges. First, they were hunted for food, then ea­ger ex­plor­ers – fas­ci­nated by the unique fauna they found dow­nun­der – killed thou­sands of spec­i­mens “for sci­ence”, so they could be stud­ied more closely. To­day, our threat­ened and en­dan­gered species have to con­tend with ev­ery­thing from preda­tors and poach­ers to the de­struc­tion of habi­tat and cli­mate change.

An equally grave threat is in­breed­ing. When the pop­u­la­tion of a par­tic­u­lar species has been se­verely de­pleted, their gene pool is com­pro­mised.

He­len Tay­lor, a re­search fel­low at Otago Uni­ver­sity, was lured from the UK by a PHD project fo­cused on in­breed­ing in the lit­tle spot­ted kiwi ( pukupuku). She also has Mas­ter of

Con­ser­va­tion and Zoo Stud­ies from Manch­ester Metropoli­tan Uni­ver­sity.

Our small­est kiwi once lived all over main­land New Zealand. In 1912, when the num­bers were still healthy, some­one with ad­mirable pre­science moved five birds from the South Is­land to Kāpiti Is­land. Thank good­ness they did, as by the 1980s all main­land pop­u­la­tions of lit­tle spot­ted kiwi were ex­tinct; only the Kāpiti birds sur­vived. While it’s es­ti­mated there are about 1700 birds to­day, all are de­scended from the Kāpiti five, caus­ing a se­ri­ous prob­lem known as “pop­u­la­tion bot­tle­neck”.

Tay­lor ex­plains: “Ev­ery time a new pop­u­la­tion of lit­tle spot­ted kiwi is formed – founded with any­where from two to 40 birds – they lose ge­netic di­ver­sity. Al­though these birds seem to be do­ing well, there’s a bit of a para­dox.

“On Long Is­land in the Marl­bor­ough Sounds, two birds were used to found a pop­u­la­tion. Lit­tle spot­ted kiwi live a very long time [ up to 83 years] and those two birds are still alive to­day and re­pro­duc­ing. All their off­spring are brothers and sis­ters, so they’re mat­ing with sib­lings, which means all sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions will be in­bred. The Long Is­land pop­u­la­tion is mainly com­prised of the found­ing and first-gen­er­a­tion birds, while the sec­ond and third gen­er­a­tions aren’t re­pro­duc­ing.”

When those found­ing birds die, the pop­u­la­tion will go into de­cline as a re­sult of in­breed­ing that’s been masked by a long life­span. Mak­ing the lit­tle spot­ted kiwi’s fate even more pre­car­i­ous, Tay­lor’s su­per­vi­sor’s ge­netic re­search sug­gests only three of the orig­i­nal Kāpiti five bred.

Armed with hard data, Tay­lor and her col­leagues make rec­om­men­da­tions around the man­age­ment of species in an ef­fort to min­imise fu­ture losses from in­breed­ing. “There are cur­rently 11 lit­tle spot­ted kiwi pop­u­la­tions and they’re man­aged as one big pop­u­la­tion, with DOC mov­ing birds be­tween is­lands ev­ery few years.”

It’s too early to say how suc­cess­ful that’s been, as ge­netic di­ver­sity in those sites hasn’t been re­assessed since they be­gan be­ing man­aged this way in 2010. “It takes a while to see turnover in kiwi pop­u­la­tions due to the bird’s long life span, so it makes sense to wait an­other 10 years be­fore re-eval­u­at­ing.”

Tay­lor has also been study­ing in­breed­ing in hihi (stitch­birds). Her work hit the head­lines this year fol­low­ing a crowd­fund­ing ex­er­cise that saw donors bet­ting on the swim­ming speed of sperm sam­ples from 128 birds.

“We were on Tiri [Tir­i­tiri Matangi Is­land], sit­ting around plac­ing bets on which bird had the fastest swim­mers. We were all go­ing to chuck in a ten­ner when we thought, ‘We could make this big­ger.’ Be­cause the birds aren’t very well known – they’re so small and hard to see – there’s not a lot of fund­ing for them, un­like species like kiwi and kākāpō.”

The “sperm de­tec­tives” made a web­site, fired up the PR ma­chine and even­tu­ally raised more than $11,000 for hihi con­ser­va­tion. Bets came in from 17 coun­tries, in­clud­ing the Czech Re­pub­lic, Tai­wan, the Nether­lands and Canada. And the one ques­tion ev­ery­one: how ex­actly is the se­men ex­tracted?

Ev­i­dently birds have a hole called a cloaca, which is for re­pro­duc­ing and get­ting rid of waste. “Dur­ing breed­ing sea­son, the male’s cloaca swells with se­men and we col­lect it us­ing a tech­nique called cloa­cal mas­sage,” says Tay­lor, mat­ter of factly.

And if that isn’t ded­i­ca­tion to the cause, con­sider what hap­pens next. Sperm die within min­utes of ex­trac­tion, which means there’s a tiny win­dow of time to get the sam­ple to the speed cam­era be­neath the mi­cro­scope – so Tay­lor de­signed a mo­bile sperm lab, con­sist­ing of a small tent, a desk, a gen­er­a­tor and a mi­cro­scope with a cam­era on top that’s con­nected to a lap­top run­ning sperm-track­ing soft­ware.

“To keep the se­men warm, we have a slide warmer on the mi­cro­scope and, the pièce de ré­sis­tance: a spe­cially de­signed ‘in-bra sperm holder’ I wear to keep sam­ples warm against my skin.”

AS A CHILD, Kevin Parker had a fas­ci­na­tion with “ev­ery­thing that creeps, crawls, flies and swims”. He still re­mem­bers the An­i­mals of the World en­cy­clopae­dia his par­ents gave him at five or six. Parker read it so many times that when fam­ily friends quizzed him about the crea­tures in the book, he very sel­dom flunked.

That fas­ci­na­tion has never waned. He stud­ied for a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in parks and re­cre­ation man­age­ment at Lin­coln Uni­ver­sity, then worked as a park ranger for Auck­land Re­gional Coun­cil and a keeper at Auck­land Zoo. Parker re­turned to uni­ver­sity and grad­u­ated with a PHD in ecol­ogy from Massey, fin­ish­ing his stud­ies with a large fern­bird tat­too on his right shoul­der and a tīeke, or sad­dle­back, on his left. “The fern­bird is from my mas­ter’s and the tīeke rep­re­sents my PHD and post- doc.”

While his mas­ter’s fo­cused on ba­sic field bi­ol­ogy and con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment, his PHD took an un­usual turn. “I started look­ing at the cul­tural evo­lu­tion of song in tīeke and the im­pact of translo­ca­tion,” he says. “What has translo­ca­tion done to their song and the way it’s trans­mit­ted?”

He found ev­i­dence of cul­tural bot­tle­necks, not dis­sim­i­lar to the ge­netic bot­tle­necks He­len Tay­lor’s con­ser­va­tion work is cen­tred around. “When birds are moved, some songs are left be­hind, and be­cause not all birds sing all the songs, with ev­ery translo­ca­tion only a sub­set of songs move with them.” On the pos­i­tive side, it turns out that mix­ing birds from dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions to in­crease ge­netic di­ver­sity also in­creases their song di­ver­sity.

Parker was pub­lish­ing papers, re­ceiv­ing grants and set­tling into an aca­demic ca­reer when he started feel­ing a lit­tle rest­less . “I en­joyed the think­ing and re­search but I re­ally liked the field­work too,” he says.

So a cou­ple of years ago, he de­cided to com­bine the two and es­tab­lished a small busi­ness with his brother Graham Parker and sis­ter-in-law Kalinka Rexer- Hu­ber, who are also con­ser­va­tion sci­en­tists. “I do translo­ca­tion, restora­tion and small-pop­u­la­tion man­age­ment and re­search, while Graham and Kalinka mostly work on seabird con­ser­va­tion, par­tic­u­larly on our sub­antarc­tic is­lands,” he says.

With highly threat­ened birds, such as hihi and kōkako, Parker is look­ing to re­cover pop­u­la­tions from very low num­bers. He also translo­cates less-threat­ened birds, in­clud­ing tīeke,

robins, white­heads and fern­birds. A re­cent mis­sion to move 40 tīeke from Tir­i­tiri Matangi to the Shake­spear Open Sanc­tu­ary on Whanga­paraoa Pensin­sula wasn’t es­sen­tial to their sur­vival as a species, he says, “but it’s part of eco­log­i­cal restora­tion, bring­ing the birds back in or­der to re­store main­land ecosys­tems. It’s im­por­tant to make that dis­tinc­tion.”

Parker stresses it’s also im­por­tant to think about where we put an­i­mals and why. “We need to be care­ful to dis­cern be­tween what an­i­mals need and what peo­ple want. Some­times those two things are very dif­fer­ent.”

As for what Parker wants, it’s sim­ple. “I want to nor­malise our wildlife and make it an ev­ery­day oc­cur­rence. But equally I want ev­ery­body to know just how unique and spe­cial it is. I was 20 be­fore I saw a tīeke and I’d like noth­ing bet­ter than to see them brought back to main­land New Zealand.

“Sec­ond, I want to help pro­tect and re­store what’s left. Ideally this means look­ing af­ter our spe­cial plants and an­i­mals where they are right now. But if they’re miss­ing, we can some­times use translo­ca­tions to bring them back. I don’t want to see all our taonga species stuck on is­lands and in lit­tle re­serves… I’d like to see it around us all the time.”

But it’s rarely plain sail­ing in the world of con­ser­va­tion, and Parker is pas­sion­ate about deal­ing to pests. “Our en­demic species, our seabirds, in­ver­te­brates and rep­tiles, our threat­ened plants – they’re what make us unique in the world and the bet­ter we get at con­trol­ling pests, the more op­por­tu­ni­ties we‘ll have,” he says.

“In New Zealand, ev­ery­thing comes back to pests, and ev­ery­thing in con­ser­va­tion in the mod­ern world comes down to fund­ing – and the will to suc­ceed. I’m al­ways amazed at what we’re able to pull off re­gard­less of the hur­dles we face.” “WHEN I WAS YOUNG, I loved an­i­mals but I didn’t want to be a vet be­cause I didn’t like the chem­i­cal smells,” Joanna Sim re­calls. “The only thing in my head was that I wanted to live in a cabin in the for­est with my dog.”

Since then, Sim has earned a de­gree in ecol­ogy, vol­un­teered on con­ser­va­tion projects and worked for the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion. In 2012, af­ter many years work­ing as a DOC ranger, she took a risk and set up her own wildlife de­tec­tion agency.

“I was re­ally scared when I left DOC,” she says. “But I went into busi­ness with my eyes wide open. Know­ing it could fail, I still had to give it a go. There were a cou­ple of years of sur­viv­ing on pump­kin soup, but I came through and now, I’ve got work planned for al­most the whole of next sea­son.”

Sim started out in the bird- de­tec­tion busi­ness with her old dog Maddi. About six years ago, she added Rua, a bor­der col­lie/ labrador/ger­man short­haired pointer cross. “At first I didn’t think Rua had it in him. I’d go out with both dogs and Rua would just trot along be­hind with Maddi find­ing ev­ery­thing. I thought he was use­less. But one day, I took Rua out by him­self and he blos­somed into the most bril­liant wildlife de­tec­tion dog.”

Watch­ing Sim work with Rua, it’s clear she has a spe­cial gift. “I’m quite strict,” she says. “For bird dogs, you need to get them to wait, un­der any cir­cum­stances. I re­ally put em­pha­sis on that. Then I in­tro­duce them to a bag of seabird or kiwi feath­ers, some­thing that smells like what I want them to find. So it’s like a game, but they’re never, ever al­lowed to touch. I’ll hide the bag in my pad­dock and make a big fuss when it’s found.

“There’s a lot of rep­e­ti­tion but I try to make it fun. It’s rel­a­tively easy to get a dog to find some­thing that smells good to them. Kiwi are very at­trac­tive to dogs; that’s why dogs kill so many of them.”

Be­cause Rua is trained for seabirds and kiwi, the pair is busy from spring till au­tumn. “I go to beau­ti­ful spots: the Hau­raki Gulf, Auck­land’s west coast, Raglan, the Re­mu­takas, Pūkaha Mt Bruce… Taranaki is a hot spot for us. They still have wild kiwi run­ning around mas­sive blocks of na­tive and ex­otic forestry. They have preda­tors,

yet kiwi sur­vive there.”

Even though kiwi are noc­tur­nal, Sim and Rua only do day work. “Some­one goes out the night be­fore and lis­tens for kiwi and tries to pin­point where they’re call­ing from. They give us a bear­ing and we go in dur­ing the day in the hopes the kiwi is still in that val­ley. Search­ing big blocks of land us­ing just Rua’s nose, it can do your head in a bit.”

Birds they find are banded (or ex­ist­ing bands are recorded), weighed and mea­sured; new trans­mit­ters might be fit­ted or changed. “They’re pretty tough birds,” says Sim. “Some are quite lean, de­pend­ing on the time of year.”

Af­ter eggs are laid, male kiwi do all the in­cu­bat­ing, spend­ing two months sit­ting on the eggs.

“They only get up at night to have a quick feed, so tend to be quite skinny at the end of the breed­ing sea­son. Closer to hatch­ing, they feed less and less. Some­times when the fe­male lays an­other set of eggs, the males will ‘dou­ble clutch’ and sit on those, too. So males are of­ten lean while fe­males have to use all that en­ergy lay­ing those ridicu­lously huge eggs.”

A par­tic­u­lar high­light is find­ing birds in sites where pop­u­la­tions are thought to have dwin­dled or dis­ap­peared al­to­gether. “We found all these grey-faced pe­trels bur­row­ing in near Muri­wai,” Sim re­calls. “We thought we might have one or two but found way more. An­other time, at Shake­spear Re­gional Park, recorders were put out but we didn’t hear any­thing. Then, walk­ing the dog along the cliff, we found pe­trels there. Even though the land had been grazed be­fore it was a sanc­tu­ary, the birds had sur­vived. That was a buzz.”

Bird de­tect­ing can be soli­tary work so ev­ery Au­gust, DOC runs the Con­ser­va­tion Dog Pro­gramme for de­tec­tion dogs and their han­dlers. Sim says there are about 60 kiwi dogs na­tion­wide, and a lot of rat and stoat dogs, but Rua is one of only two specif­i­cally trained to work with seabirds.

De­tec­tion dogs are an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant part of the wildlife puz­zle. It’s all very well to fo­cus on preda­tor con­trol, “but it’s also es­sen­tial to keep track of threat­ened bird pop­u­la­tions to mon­i­tor their health and de­mo­graph­ics,” says Sim. “This in turn helps to im­prove the man­age­ment of the species where they live, and to see if hu­mans are ac­tu­ally help­ing them. That’s the aim, af­ter all.”

When Sim is in the field with Rua, 11-year- old Maddi goes to stay with Sim’s par­ents. Her own home is a prop­erty out­side Levin, which she’s plant­ing with na­tive trees – pretty close to that child­hood dream of liv­ing in a cabin in a for­est with her dog. ON 26 MAY 2018, a crowd of more than 100 peo­ple gather at the Shake­spear Open Sanc­tu­ary on the tip of the Whanga­paraoa Penin­sula. They are here to wit­ness the lib­er­a­tion of 40 North Is­land tīeke (sad­dle­backs), a bird that by the late 19th cen­tury had been re­duced to a sin­gle is­land pop­u­la­tion of just 500. To­day, with a lit­tle help from hu­mans, they can be seen and heard in six main­land lo­ca­tions and at 18 sanc­tu­ar­ies around the North Is­land, mak­ing them one of our great­est con­ser­va­tion suc­cess sto­ries.

There are in­fants in arms, el­derly day-trip­pers, a small me­dia con­tin­gent, sanc­tu­ary vol­un­teers, coun­cil rep­re­sen­ta­tives and iwi. But most here to cel­e­brate the re­lease will have lit­tle idea how hard Kevin Parker’s team has worked for the translo­ca­tion to pro­ceed so smoothly.

The Prepa­ra­tion

A week prior to re­lease, two aviaries on Tir­i­tiri Matangi Is­land – 6km from the re­lease site – are filled with fo­liage. Parker and his squad of skilled bird han­dlers have just five days to cap­ture 42 birds from the 220ha is­land.

“For any translo­ca­tion, I need a cer­tain num­ber of catch­ers, han­dlers and hus­bandry peo­ple, six or seven ideally, peo­ple who know how to catch and look af­ter birds – and who aren’t a pain in the arse,” he says. “The peo­ple I work with are ca­pa­ble and ded­i­cated, and in a po­si­tion to vol­un­teer their time. If we had to pay ev­ery­body, it would cost a for­tune.”

The Field Cap­ture

Four teams range across the is­land, set­ting up mist nests in good tīeke catch sites. Care­ful site se­lec­tion is cru­cial, aided by the use of lure calls: record­ings of tīeke. Fiercely ter­ri­to­rial birds, they’re quick to in­ves­ti­gate and see who’s in­vad­ing their patch.

“Taranaki is a hot spot for us. They still have wild kiwi run­ning around mas­sive blocks of na­tive and ex­otic forestry.”

Mist nets are made of fine ny­lon and are vir­tu­ally in­vis­i­ble. They com­prise a se­ries of shelves, with pock­ets hang­ing below. The ma­te­rial has a lot of give, al­most like a tram­po­line, but hor­i­zon­tal as op­posed to ver­ti­cal. When a bird flies in, the net stretches to soften the im­pact and stop the bird from hurt­ing it­self; the bird then bounces down into one of the pock­ets.

With min­i­mum fuss, a han­dler then places the cap­tured bird in a small draw­string bag to be trans­ported to the aviary, where it’s weighed, sexed and banded. By day two, 42 tīeke are en­sconced in their tran­sit ho­tel. The team has a per­mit to trans­port 40, but two ex­tra have been caught as a con­tin­gency.

Car­ing for the Birds

Once cap­tured, the tīeke are in the hands of Cheri Crosby and Sharon Kast. Crosby was once a com­mer­cial fish­er­woman in Alaska while Kast was a fash­ion ex­ec­u­tive in New York – not the kind of peo­ple you’d ex­pect to be on cater­ing duty for a small pop­u­la­tion of cap­tive na­tives. But that’s the won­der­ful thing about bird peo­ple: there are no stereo­types.

Twice daily, at 8am and 2pm, the gre­gar­i­ous and ded­i­cated duo head for their “kitchen” to pre­pare a feast. They thread fruit onto sticks, carve up the spe­cial bird cake (it looked de­li­cious) and mete out por­tions of wig­gling meal­worms and wax moths ( less ap­peal­ing). Bird ban­quet pre­pared, the chefs re­stock aviaries with fresh kai. They work qui­etly and me­thod­i­cally in the fo­liage-filled grotto. With light fil­ter­ing through the leaves, even at 2pm it feels like dusk – cool and oth­er­worldly.

Be­hind the Scenes

The main ac­com­mo­da­tion on Tir­i­tiri Matangi is a com­mu­nal bunkroom where the vol­un­teers have some down time for ex­u­ber­ant card games. The con­ver­sa­tion cov­ers ev­ery­thing from who is a level-three bird ban­der (it’s an ac­tual thing) to whether or not you can band birds in your own back­yard.

The night be­fore the birds are booked to travel, the 40 black draw­string bags are weighed, be­cause the birds will be weighed again the fol­low­ing day, to see how they’ve fared in cap­tiv­ity. Next comes a de­tailed brief­ing; the card game is set aside and Parker’s de­meanour takes a stern turn. Translo­ca­tion is no triv­ial pur­suit. “My job is to make sure those birds sur­vive,” says Parker. “And while as­pects of the mis­sion are fun, we have to take it se­ri­ously.”

The Aviary Catch-up

Start­ing at 9am, ev­ery­one is kit­ted out with gloves and eye pro­tec­tion, and veg­e­ta­tion in­side the aviary is re­moved. The group is reg­u­larly re­minded to keep the fo­liage low and to be aware of who’s be­hind them – in­juries can oc­cur if the process be­comes fran­tic or noisy.

With nowhere left to hide, one by one the birds are quickly bagged and hung like laun­dry on a board of nails. They’re weighed again – al­most all have made gains – and given a thor­ough in­spec­tion: beak, eyes, feath­ers. Once a bird is deemed fit, it’s placed in a trav­el­ling box.

Vol­un­teer John Ste­wart’s deft han­dling makes the birds’ jour­ney from bag to travel box as trau­mafree as pos­si­ble. Even­tu­ally, 40 birds are di­vided be­tween eight boxes, ready to be shipped to their new home. The two con­tin­gency birds are re­leased, pre­sum­ably to re­gale their friends with ex­cit­ing tales of kid­nap and es­cape.

Hap­pily Ever Af­ter?

When the birds are re­leased just three hours later and the fan­fare sub­sides, Parker can fi­nally re­lax.

“Af­ter the first catch day, back at the bunkhouse, when ev­ery­one is cel­e­brat­ing and re­lax­ing, play­ing cards, maybe hav­ing a drink – I can’t re­lax,” he says. “It was awe­some that we caught the birds so eas­ily, but it doesn’t fin­ish for me till re­lease.

“In fact, I think my favourite part of translo­ca­tion is five to 10 years later. That’s what I love the most. To go back to the re­lease site and see that it worked.” +

A North Is­land brown kiwi.

Pioneer­ing con­ser­va­tion­ist Don Mer­ton weigh­ing kākāpō on Maud Is­land. Above right: Otago Uni­ver­sity re­searcher He­len Tay­lor col­lects se­men from a South Is­land robin on Mo­tu­ara Is­land in Queen Char­lotte Sound.

GENE GENIE He­len Tay­lor’s bird­sav­ing ex­per­tise helps free up “pop­u­la­tion bot­tle­necks” caused by in­breed­ing.

Re­searcher He­len Tay­lor is so ded­i­cated to the cause she has a spe­cially de­signed ‘in-bra sperm holder’ that she wears to keep sam­ples warm against her skin.

Above: Parker hold­ing a hihi (stitch­bird) from an April 2018 translo­ca­tion of hihi from Tir­i­tiri Matangi to Bushy Park ( Whanganui) and Ro­tokare Scenic Re­serve ( Taranaki).

SONGLINES Kevin Parker and the trans­for­ma­tive pow­ers of translo­ca­tion.

Top: Kevin Parker dur­ing a tīeke (sad­dle­back) translo­ca­tion from Tir­i­tiri Matangi to Shake­spear Open Sanc­tu­ary on Whanga­paraoa Penin­sula. “Most birds come straight out of the trans­fer boxes but a few are a bit slow and shy, so I al­ways triple check them to make sure all of the birds get out safe and sound,” he says. “In this case, there was a bird perched in the back that flew out shortly af­ter see­ing me peer­ing in.”

Joanna Sim helps track and mon­i­tor na­tive birds with her de­tec­tion dog Rua ( left) and Maddi, now re­tired. HE’S A BIRD DOG Joanna Sim tracks na­tive birds with her wildlife de­tec­tor dog Rua.

Hihi (stitch­bird).

PAR AVIAN Tag­ging along with the bird han­dlers at a tīeke translo­ca­tion.

Left: A kiwi bur­row and (right) a young bird.

Above: a North Is­land tīeke, or sad­dle­back on Tir­i­tiri Matangi is­land. Right: Sharon Kast ( left) and Cheri Crosby aren’t the kind of peo­ple you’d ex­pect on cater­ing duty for a small pop­u­la­tions of na­tive birds. Crosby was once a com­mer­cial fish­er­woman in Alaska, while Kast was a fash­ion ex­ec­u­tive in New York.

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