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Predator control key to successes

Conservation of Chatham chicks

In early June 2006, the first Chatham Petrel Pterodroma axillaries chick for more than a century fledged on Pitt Island, New Zealand.

Previously this Critically Endangered species, numbering fewer than 1,000 birds, was confined to Rangatira Island, a small island off Pitt Island, but efforts began in 2002 to create a second ‘insurance’ breeding population. Over four years, 200 chicks were transferred to the 40 ha Ellen Elizabeth Preece Conservation Covenant (Caravan Bush) predator-free enclosure on Pitt. Four birds have returned so far, and this year a pair successfully reared a single chick.

“It’s the first time this has been achieved with Pterodroma petrels in New Zealand,” said Dave Houston, technical support officer for the Chatham Islands from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC). “DOC staff, volunteers and Pitt Islanders are rapt.”It follows hot on the heels of a record 11 Chatham Islands Taiko Pterodroma magentae fledging, thanks to sustained predator control in the Taiko’s breeding area on Chatham Island. The world population of this Critically Endangered species now numbers between 120 and 150 individuals.

“It is the highest number of chicks to fledge since this formerly presumed extinct species was rediscovered by ornithologist David Crockett in 1978,” said Houston. “A lot of people have put in a lot of hard work to achieve these successes.”

Although fledging of the chicks is a milestone in the recovery of both species, there is still a long way to go. The Chatham Petrel chick is likely to return to breed when around three to five years of age, but the Taiko are unlikely to breed until six to nine years old.

4th July 2014