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Tara iti - NZ fairy tern

The tara iti lives at Pakiri and there are only 16 breeding pairs left in the world. This is New Zealand’s rarest endemic bird and its habitat is under grave threat.

The encroachment of human activity on their nesting grounds is a major threat to these birds. Beach narrowing, due to loss of sand, forces the terns to nest closer to the sea, putting their eggs at risk during storms. 

The Endangered Species Foundation identified tara iti, the New Zealand Fairy Tern in its Top Ten Most Endangered Species List. Tara iti is listed as “nationally critical” which is the highest threat ranking for any endangered species. It is New Zealand’s rarest endemic breeding bird with a current population of fewer than 40 birds. Once widespread around North Island coasts, its current breeding sites are Waipu, Mangawhai, Te Arai, Pakiri and Papakanui Spit.

The encroachment of human activity on their nesting grounds is a major threat to these birds. Beach narrowing, due to loss of sand, housing developments and weed invasion, forces the terns to nest closer to the sea, putting their eggs at risk during storms. Introduced predators and human disturbance also threaten nesting sites. 

Recently the Endangered Species Foundation added to urgent calls, asking the Auckland Council to end sand mining at Pakiri, to protect the critically endangered tara iti. Hearings have recently been held by the Auckland City Council to renew the resource consent for sand mining by Kaipara Ltd, who want to take another 2 million cubic metres of sand from the beach over the next 20 years.

“We are calling on the Auckland City Council to make the right decision and stop sand mining in this area,” says Stu. “The fate of the tara iti is closely linked to the fate of our beaches and all the species that depend on them”.

An intensive conservation programme is underway to protect the NZ fairy tern and has successfully increased the population from an all-time low in 1983 of up to four breeding pairs. 

 

The Endangered Species Foundation has also been working with WWF-NZ, the International Centre for Birds of Prey, Exeter University, and Auckland University to develop high quality, 3D-printed fairy tern eggs. These highly realistic dummy eggs were trialed successfully, and are now employed in the NZ fairy tern recovery programme. The dummy eggs replace wild eggs removed for artificial incubation. The dummies must be life-like to ensure parents remain on the nest to care for the chicks that are returned. This critical intervention reduces the loss of viable eggs to predation or storm events. 

The same techniques were recently applied to the kakapo recovery programme, where 3D-printed smart eggs replace fertile eggs removed for incubation. These smart eggs begin to make noise as the time approaches for the real chicks to arrive. 

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