Tag Archives: native birds

UC students discover native birds thriving on Ilam campus

Bellbird and chicks. Photo credit Jim Briskie
Bellbird and chicks. Photo credit Jim Briskie

A recent survey of the UC campus shows that in the last 26 years both the range and abundance of all native bird species have increased!

Last year, as part of a lab exercise for Biology 273 (New Zealand Biodiversity and Biosecurity), a group of UC students created a bird atlas of the UC campus and compared it to a similar atlas from 1990 (by Krystyna Dodunski, a former Zoology student).

The results of the survey indicate that in the 26 years that have passed all native species increased in range and abundance, with an increase of almost 500% in the total number of native birds observed. One species, the bellbird, is now in the early stages of colonising campus. And fantails, grey warblers and silvereyes have all become significantly more abundant on campus.

The greatest diversity of native birds occurred along the campus waterways. Professor Jim Briskie (School of Biological Sciences) says it is likely that the changes are a product of increased plantings of native trees (favoured by native birds) and decreased open space (habitat favoured by many introduced species). Maintaining and expanding native plantings at UC could also help to further increase the range of native birds, like the native pigeon or kererū.

Song thrush. Photo credit Jim Briskie
Song thrush. Photo credit Jim Briskie

Given the dependence of bellbirds on flowering and fruiting trees, Professor Briskie suggests it is worth considering plantings that provide this resource, and to ensure that the current small population of bellbirds does not disappear. Restoring species that formerly occurred in the Christchurch area but are now locally extinct could be a long-term goal for the management of the campus green spaces.

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The eagle-eyed may have already noticed a new bird on campus. The University of Canterbury will fly a native New Zealand falcon (kārearea) above its Ilam campus to naturally deter pest birds, the first time a university has adopted such a tactic.

Marlborough Falcon Trust handlers Vikki Smith and Rob Lawry have recently begun free-flying a specially bred one-year-old kārearea – as featured on the $20 banknote – to help reduce UC’s pigeon population. Tappe, named for Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku, was bred by the Trust from injured captive falcons unable to survive in the wild.

UC students and staff will be treated to regular falcon-flying displays as Tappe patrols his territory. Seeing a kārearea flying regularly at UC will also be an opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of the rare New Zealand falcon.


Tappe as a young adult. This photo was taken outside during the early stages of Tappe’s training.

There has already been a lot of interest in the first visits to campus as Tappe acclimatises to his new territory at UC.

Here are some simple guidelines if you happen to see Tappe up close on campus:

  • Curiosity about the kārearea and his falconer is natural and you are welcome to take photos.
  • Please be aware that the falconer may not always be able to engage and answer your questions about what he or she is doing. He or she needs to concentrate on where Tappe is and what the bird is doing.
  • Do not try to touch the falcon.
  • Try to minimise any disturbance to Tappe and his trainer.
  • Please try not to walk behind the falcon. If a person is in his blind spot, the falcon may become stressed.

While Tappe was raised by humans in captivity, he is not a pet. Tappe is an advocacy bird, trained by the Marlborough Falcon Trust to demonstrate what falcons can do. It is not legal to have native falcons as pets in New Zealand.

Tappe has been trained to complete territorial flights around the campus to scare flocks of pigeons from the University’s buildings and away from the campus.

UC is taking this positive action to address the problematic presence of large numbers of pigeons in a natural way that also supports a rare and endangered native bird species.

Kārearea are rare, with only an estimated 6000 birds left. Their habit of sitting on high perches looking for prey makes them difficult to spot in the wild, and there are very few places in New Zealand that display native falcons.

Kārearea are one of New Zealand’s most spectacular native birds, extremely fast and agile. Prior to human arrival in New Zealand, almost all of their natural diet was birds. The presence of birds such as kārearea scares potential prey birds and they leave the area.

Birds of prey are used around the world for bird control, particularly around airports. These birds are trained to fly to a lure, rather than capture birds. This predator-prey relationship is a natural way of discouraging the presence of unwanted birds.