Kiwi glee at hatching hihi
Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand) has announced that the Stitchbirds (or hihi) Notiomystis cincta which were returned to the mainland earlier this year, after an absence of more than a century, have hatched chicks.
The 59 mostly juvenile hihi were transferred to Cascade Kauri Park, home of the community restoration project Ark in the Park, a partnership between between the Waitakere Branch of Forest & Bird and Auckland Regional Council . The transfer followed an intensive programme to reduce the threat from introduced pests such as possums, rats and stoats.
“The fact that the first generation brought to the Waitakere Ranges is breeding successfully is a good sign that they have adapted well to their new home and are thriving,” said Ark in the Park project manager Sandra Jack.
“It’s a very exciting stage in what is basically an experiment to see if hihi can thrive in an area with low predator numbers,” she added. “If chicks fledge successfully and survive through to being able to breed themselves, then it’s looking very promising for the future of these rare and special birds. If they can survive at the Ark, they may have a future in other areas on the mainland, where they were once common”.
The reintroduced birds were brought from the Tiritira Matangi Islands, an earlier reintroduction site for Stitchbird, which was widespread over New Zealand’s North Island and adjacent offshore islands until the introduction of black rat. The last natural population on Hauturu/Little Barrier Island (31 km2) is thought to be as few as 500-2,000 birds.
Recent conservation efforts have also seen new populations established on Kapiti Island and Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellington where they are safe from predators.
“We hope that a self-sustaining population will become established..." —Sandra Jack, Ark in the Park
The forest at Ark in the Park is botanically similar to the habitat on Little Barrier. Habitat loss is a limiting factor on the population: for example, although the population on Tiritiri Matangi is gradually expanding, at least half the young produced each year die of starvation, due to the shortage of mature forest on the island.
But despise these successes, hihi are still vulnerable to extinction and establishing additional populations is a core focus for their recovery. “We hope that a self-sustaining population will become established in the forest in the Waitakere Ranges, improving the species’ chances of long-term survival,” said Sandra Jack.
 Ark in the Park is supported by the Department of Conservation, Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund, Waitakere City Council, ASB Community Trust and Waitakere and Portage Licensing Trusts.