People of Kaikoura farewelled Hutton's shearwater at a dawn ceremony on Sunday, as the birds returned to their winter feeding grounds off the
north west coast of . Australia
About 30 people attended the farewell to the birds, walking to top of the
shearwater feathers into the wind and join Brett Cowan of the Kaikoura runanga
in oruoroua whakaoriori, a Maori form of tai chi. Kaikoura
Department of Conservation biodiversity programme manager Phil Bradfield said this was the fifth and final year of a project which has transferred 500 shearwater chicks from two remaining colonies in the mountains to a pest-free enclosure on the
The birth of the first naturally bred chicks on the site was the highlight of the season, said Mr Bradfield, following breakfast at the Kaikoura Coastguard base. Twenty four breeding chicks returned to the peninsula, laid 12 eggs and successfully raised two chicks.
He hoped some day returning birds would build tens of thousands of burrows inside the enclosure. However, this would take many years because each pair of birds laid only one egg per season.
At the end of February and in early March, DOC and volunteers took 100 chicks from the biggest of the two surviving wild colonies at the head of the Kowhai catchment to the peninsula.
The last of these fledglings flew away on Tuesday last week, after dining on "sardine smoothies" for up to four and a half weeks.
This season, 45 per cent of incubated shearwater eggs at the two wild colonies survived through to fledgling stage, Mr Bradfield said. This compared with 70 to 82 per cent survival in the previous four years "which, for a wild bird in the presence of introduced mammals, is high".
Trust member Nicky McArthur who traps stoats at a shearwater colony on her Puhi Peaks Nature Reserve, said dead birds and signs of stoats showed this pest was the problem.
However, Mr Bradfield said research suggested stoats did not reduce breeding success.
Next year, populations would be calculated by marking 2000 birds with non-toxic paint then counting them on the water.
The translocation project was based on fledgling chicks imprinting on the predator-fenced site then returning two to three years later and starting breeding there at 6 to 7 years old.
About 15 per cent of Hutton's shearwater chicks survived their first year but survival improved as the birds grew older.
Having the colony so close to Kaikoura and so accessible was very exciting, Mr Bradfield said.
The Hutton's Shearwater Charitable Trust was formed in October 2008 and raised $260,000 to build the predator fence around the colony.
It encourages the preservation, conservation, research, public education and sustainable management of the endangered bird.