Canterbury's braided shingle rivers will play host to a trial programme in an effort to encourage rare birds to breed and boost population numbers.
Research is under way by Lincoln University student Courtney Hamblin to encourage breeding of the rare and endangered tarapiroe (black-fronted tern), a bird endemic to New Zealand which breeds almost exclusively in South Island shingle riverbeds.
The current population of 5000 to 10,000 is declining rapidly due to predators. The birds are classified as nationally endangered.
Hamblin said plaster-moulded "decoys", which looked like the terns, and audio using their song would be used to encourage the birds to breed, a process known as "social attraction".
On Monday, Hamblin was conducting work in the Ashley and Waimakariri rivers to get an indication of whether the decoys would attract the terns and encourage them to nest at selected sites.
It would then be expanded, with work taking place throughout Canterbury on the Ashburton (Hakatere), Rangitata, Ohau, Ahuriri, Tasman, and Hopkins braided rivers.
"If it works, it means we could employ this technique to encourage terns to nest in areas where they are protected by weed clearance, pest control, and restrictions on vehicle access, and so boost their breeding success," she said.
Hamblin, studying a masters of science majoring in ecology, said the research project was "cool" because it had real life applications.
It was supported by the Ashley Rakahuri Rivercare Group and the Brian Mason Scientific and Technical Trust.