First meeting of the New Zealand fairy tern recovery group in Whangarei 29 May 2019.
Image: DOC

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


DOC says a recovery group is needed to provide the direction on preventing the extinction of the fairy tern/tara iti, New Zealand’s most endangered bird.

Date:  29 May 2019

“With only six pairs attempting to nest last season, and a population of approximately 40 birds, the plight of the fairy tern/tara iti is critical,” says Troy Makan, Tara iti Recovery Group Leader.

“DOC is taking a collaborative approach with a newly-established Tara iti Recovery Group which includes Ngāti Whatua O Kaipara, Patuharakeke Te Iwi and Te Uri o Hau. It will be supported with dedicated DOC science staff and increased research. The recovery group has their first meeting today in Whangarei today (29 May 2019).”

A 2017 review made 22 recommendations which form the basis of the latest recovery programme. Fifteen recommendations are currently being implemented with the remaining seven to be progressed under the leadership of the recovery group.

Implementing the new recovery programme involves developing new techniques and management strategies.

There is already significant on the ground management of the populations at the breeding and roosting sites near Auckland and Whangarei. This includes avian and mammalian predator control, proactive development of nesting sites with fencing, chick protection and monitoring with onsite public advocacy and compliance to keep the breeding areas undisturbed.

“There’s fantastic community support and DOC works closely with several community groups and trusts to raise funding to support New Zealand fairy tern/tara iti along with providing and coordinating volunteers on the ground,” says Mr Makan.

“These include Birds NZ, Forest & Bird, Mangawhai About Tern, the Mangawhai Harbour Restoration Society, the New Zealand Fairy Tern Trust, the Te Arai and Mangawhai Shorebirds Trust and Waipu About Tern.”

“DOC is partnering with the Te Arai and Mangawhai Shorebirds Trust, Boffa Miskell Ltd, Te Uri o Hau Settlement Trust and the New Zealand Fairy Tern Charitable Trust, to fund key research and predator control. This includes the development of new management strategies, genetic research into pedigree and infertility and new tools, and techniques for nest protection including nest monitoring using trail cameras and year-round predator control at Mangawhai spit.”

“These precious birds have been hanging onto the brink for too long. The recovery group enables us to give the tara iti the chance to once again flourish on our shores,” says Mr Makan

More information

Fairy terns are confined to Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, with endemic subspecies in each country. The New Zealand fairy tern/tara iti is New Zealand’s most threatened bird. It has a national threat classification status of ‘Nationally Critical’ and is prioritised for management in DOC’s conservation planning system.

Tara iti habitat is limited to sheltered estuaries and harbours north of Auckland and south of, and including, Whangarei Harbour. Successful breeding is currently limited to four sites: Waipu sandspit, Mangawhai sandspit, Pakiri River mouth and Papakanui sand-spit.

The total number of Tara iti is estimated at 35-39 birds. This year (2018/2019), six females have laid eggs and attempted to nest. Two chicks hatched at the Pakiri and Waipu breeding sites. Unfortunately, one of the six breeding females died due to an internal rupture of an abnormal egg.

There are additional females in the population who have bred in previous years. In total, there are approximately 9-10 breeding age females in the population that have the potential to pair and breed. However, not all pairs produce fertile clutches. This occurs when non-fertile males pair with breeding females.

Tara iti are threatened by mammalian predators, habitat disturbances of breeding and roosting sites from human impacts and weather events. Management at breeding sites is undertaken by DOC, Treaty partners and community groups.


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