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birds in the west with janie vaughan On the move with Waitakere’s migrating birds

Many millions of birds migrate twice each year, along traditional routes. Although they know no political boundaries, they are increasingly affected by human behaviour in all the nations they fly through. For example, 25 million songbirds are

illegally killed and eaten each year in the Mediterranean area of the European/ African flyway while, closer to home, an estimated fifty million shorebirds along the East Asian-Australasian flyway are finding

their staging

under threat. Local migrants include the long-tailed

cuckoo and the shining cuckoo which lay their eggs in other species’ nests. The long-tailed cuckoo spends our winter on Pacific Islands mainly east of Fiji but breeds only in New Zealand. As New Zealand‘s forests were felled the habitat

A female godwit in flight with a smaller male above her. Initially researchers put their tracking transmitters on the females because of this size difference. Photo by Ian Southey.

of their host species was reduced and the number of birds returning to their winter homes were fewer. As a result, the long-tailed cuckoo no longer breeds in the Waitakeres due to the absence of its host, the whitehead. Volunteers from the Ark in the Park are working to remedy this by reintroducing whiteheads to the Waitakeres from Tiritiri Matangi where they are breeding successfully. However, long-tailed cuckoos may still be heard here as they migrate to and from their host species in forests further south. Their call is a loud harsh shriek. (Google “long-tailed cuckoo song”.) The shining cuckoo migrates to the Waitakeres from

its winter homes around the Solomon Islands. It is more easily heard (Google “shining cuckoo song”) than seen in the Waitakeres but they reside here from about now until April. They lay their eggs in grey warbler nests. (The grey warbler should have already raised one clutch of chicks, in late August.) Cuckoo chicks are very noisy, demanding food and providing us with an opportunity to see them by following their incessant calling. Other birds also respond to this begging and are sometimes seen feeding them. The shining cuckoo also migrates to Australia

Banded dotterels breed throughout New Zealand

but have an odd migration pattern. While those seen on our west coast beaches in spring may be resident, i.e. don’t migrate, they may be joined later in the year by migrating birds that have finished breeding on the braided rivers and lakes of the South Island. However, those which breed in the McKenzie Basin, migrate to Australia’s eastern beaches for the winter. Gannets are another local migrant. Young gannets

(refuelling) sites

hatched at Muriwai around November disperse to Australian waters when they are about 15 weeks old. They will not return until they are ready to breed three years later. Some adults do migrate to Australian waters annually returning to breed in Muriwai in July. All gannets face problems with oil spills, set nets and fishing lines. The South Island oystercatcher is seen in the more

sheltered beaches of the Manukau Harbour. They breed, as their name suggests, in the South Island where there is concern about changing land use patterns. In the north, disturbance to their feeding and roosting sites is an increasing problem. The Arctic offers an abundant supply of protein

for the raising of young godwits but there is no food there in the northern winter making the godwit our champion long-distance migrant. About 80,000 arrive in New Zealand each year after a non-stop flight of 11,500 kilometres from Alaska which takes them about nine days. They spread out around the country, including around the Manukau Harbour, to rest and feed before going through a complete moult, as feathers must be in excellent condition for their next migration. They then double their weight before departing in March/April to return to the northern tundra where they will quickly raise a family before returning to New Zealand. “Welcome to the Birds Day” is being celebrated

on October 4 at the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre. Alaskan scientist Lee Tibbitts will talk on satellite tracking of migrants at 10am, followed by bird watching on the Firth of Thames’ shell banks.

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