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Rare birds still nesting near Rocket Lab launch site - DoC

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Monitoring shows a critically endangered native shore bird continues to nest and breed near the Rocket Lab launch site on Mahia Peninsula.

Shore plover or tūturuatu nest on the shoreline of Waikawa / Portland Island, about two kilometres from the rocket launch site at the tip of the peninsula.

Shore plover are unique to New Zealand. Their total population stands at 240 adult birds. Seventy shore plover, including 17 breeding pairs, call Waikawa home. These birds have continued to roost, feed, nest and breed on Waikawa while two Rocket Lab Electron rockets have climbed into space from the nearby launch site.

The rockets were launched on May 25 last year and January 21 this year. "DOC staff went to Waikawa the day after both launches to check on the shore plover. The birds were roosting and feeding as normal after both launches," says DOC Shore Plover Specialist Group lead Dave Houston. Rocket Lab team members have pitched in to help DOC protect the shore plover by controlling Darwin ants on Waikawa. The ants are an invasive pest from Australia that can harm and kill newly hatched shore plover chicks.

In February, Rocket Lab and DOC staff laid 3000 baits, targeting Darwin ants, on Waikawa. DOC staff saw that the number of ants on the island had dropped significantly when they laid a second lot of bait in March.

DOC is aiming to double the number of breeding pair of shore plover on Waikawa, from 17 breeding pair now, to 30 or more breeding pair. This will be achieved by moving birds from a shore plover captive breeding programmes - at Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre and The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch - and releasing them on Waikawa.

Waikawa already has the second largest wild population of shore plover in New Zealand. Rangatira Island, in the Chathams, is home to 50 breeding pairs. This is the largest and only self-sustaining wild population of shore plover.

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