Celebrating our superb seabirds
New Zealand is considered the seabird capital of the world, with 80 species breeding in Aotearoa. More than a third are endemic or found nowhere else in the world.
This week is World Ocean Week, so we’ve taken this opportunity to admire how some of our feathered friends have evolved to inhabit this challenging ecosystem.
We begin with the most eye-catching of all, the Australasian gannet/ta¯kapu. A feeding gannet is an impressive sight. Hurtling 145kmh from 15 metres above the water, and plunging another 10m below, it’s a wonder they don’t break their necks.
Evolution is an amazing thing, however, and to cushion the impact of the dive, gannets have air sacs around their chest and neck. This extreme hunting is still risky: researchers have found gannet bodies fatally pierced by another, presumably while pursuing the same fish.
Fluttering shearwater/pakaha¯ are also an impressive sight for their sheer numbers. They feed in flocks, and sometimes gather in their thousands in open waters.
Often, where there is a flock of fluttering shearwaters, there is a school of fish such as kahawai underneath, feeding on the same small fish. Fluttering shearwaters nest in burrows under forest canopy.
Not only is an adult faithful to their mate each year, they often return to the same burrow to nest - an impressive feat when there are thousands of burrows in a colony, and no street signs!
The aerodynamic white-fronted tern/ tara are often called the swallows of the seas. They breed in colonies at river mouths and estuaries, with their nest a slight depression in the ground.
The pairs often mate for life, and each breeding season the male woos the female with small fish. They are bold little birds, and gang up to scare off a potential threat to their eggs with a loud squawk and a well-aimed faecal ‘bomb’.
Of the 12 species of shag in New Zealand, our Marlborough coastline is home to six: black shag/kawau, little black shag/kawau tu¯i, spotted shag/ parekareka, pied shag/ka¯ruhiruhi, little shag/kawau paka, and our own Marlburian, the king shag/kawau.
King shags are only found in the Marlborough Sounds. Sadly, they are classified as ‘Nationally Endangered’ with an estimated population of 800 individuals. Unlike their cousins, king shags are easily disturbed from their roosting or nesting sites, so admire them from a distance.
Little penguins/korora¯, also known as little blue penguins, are the smallest penguin in the world. Penguin wings have evolved to become a rigid paddle, which allows them to propel themselves through the water after prey. They return to land at dusk, and – as any sounds bach owner will be able to attest to - they will then converse with each other with piercing squeals, barks and growls throughout the night.
You can help seabirds, and other marine wildlife, flourish in our Marlborough waters, by picking up some rubbish off the streets, riverbanks or beaches. Every bit helps!
Conservation Kids NZ, co-hosted by Envirohub Marlborough and DOC, is organising a beach clean-up at Bob’s Bay, Picton on Sunday 10 June 9:30am12:30pm. Meet at Shelly Beach at 9:30am for a gentle 20min bush walk to Bob’s Bay. After the clean up there will be some fun seashore activities for the kids. Bring gardening gloves, solid footwear, warm clothes, lunch or snacks and a drink.