Pacific
28 Oct 2015

Bar Tailed Godwit: New Zealand's Bird of the Year

The winner - Bar Tailed Godwit
The winner - Bar Tailed Godwit. Photo Craig McKenzie
By Mike Britton

The bar-tailed godwit (kuaka) has been crowned New Zealand's Bird of the Year after three weeks of close competition, heated campaigning and attempts at cheating.  The Bird of the Year competition is run each year by Forest & Bird, the New Zealand BirdLife partner.

The godwits spur public imagination having the longest migratory flight of any bird in the world.  Between 80,000 to 100,000 of these amazing birds travel over 11,000 kilometres from Alaska to reach New Zealand in less than 9 days.  But like many of our `born to fly’ species, bar-tailed gotwits are in decline with numbers arriving dropping by 2% every year.  Keith Woodley of the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre, who championed the species in the competition, notes that habitat loss is a massive problem for these birds, especially in east Asia where most of them stop to refuel.  Addressing the habitat threat is an important part of the BirdLife Born to Fly programme.

There was some hope raised this week for the red knot (Hauhou), another `born to fly’ species.  The New Zealand Minister of Conservation, Hon Maggie Barry, announced that discussions with China’s Ambassador to New Zealand is offering hope of safeguarding the bird’s migration routes.  They rely on wetlands in Bohai Bay as a refuelling stop on their way from the North Island to breeding grounds in Siberia – a 30,000km round trip.

Chinese Ambassador Wang Lutong has worked with authorities in Hebei Province to gain protection for a significant habitat for red knots and shorebirds, covering more than 3000 hectares, with other extensive wetland sites under consideration.  Officials of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation will soon travel to China to discuss details of an agreement on protection of migratory bird habitat in both countries.

A close second in the Bird of the Year was the Kokako, an endemic wattlebird that has benefited from Forest & Bird protection work, especially in its Ark in the Park project near Auckland. Third was the ever popular kaka, a special and cheeking parrot that is making a comeback in the capital, Wellington, thanks to the Karori Zealandia Eco-sanctuary and possum control around the city.