The Bird of the Year

by Rebecca Priestley / 26 September, 2013
Weka, tern or storm petrel? Which of the 35 entries will win Bird of the Year?
One night on Macauley Island, in the Kermadec Islands group, in 1988, ornithologists Alan Tennyson and Graeme Taylor noticed something flitting around the Tilley lamp inside their tent. A close inspection of the tiny grey and white bird revealed a Kermadec storm petrel, a species known from only a handful of specimens shot at sea in the 1920s. The bird wasn’t nesting on Macauley, whose seabird population had been devastated by rats, cats and goats, but over subsequent years the birds were occasionally spotted at sea. In 2006, a Navy helicopter dropped Karen Baird and Mike Imber on Haszard Island – a rocky islet next to Macauley – to search for signs of the bird.

The first Kermadec storm petrel found breeding – on top of Haszard Island.


“The area on top of the island is quite small and the ground is soft,” says Baird. “Mike stuck his hand down a burrow and out came a Kermadec storm petrel on an egg. We looked at the amount of habitat available and estimated there were 100 burrows at most, so maybe 100 breeding pairs.”

Haszard Island is a grass-topped lump of volcanic rock sticking sharply out of New Zealand’s northern ocean. The many species of seabirds that live in the Kermadec Islands can survive patrolling sharks, erupting volcanoes and tropical storms, but the rats, mice and cats introduced in the 19th century decimated many species. Haszard Island, though, has remained pest-free, providing a haven for this vulnerable seabird who spends months each year raising a single chick in an earthy burrow.

The Kermadec storm petrel (Pelagodroma albiclunis) is one of the entrants in Forest & Bird’s annual Bird of the Year competition. Bronwen Golder, of the Pew Environment Group’s Kermadec Initiative, is campaign manager for this enigmatic little bird. “The Kermadec storm petrel is one of New Zealand’s endemic species – they’re found nowhere else in the world – but they are critically endangered,” she says. “But it’s a bird we know hardly anything about. How can one of our endemic birds be a total enigma? We want people to know about it, we want people to champion it; ultimately, we want to support scientists to study them and find out more about where they go, and when we find out that, we find out more about our ocean and how it’s working.”

The tiny storm petrel is facing tough competition, says Forest & Bird’s Mandy Herrick. About 35 birds are competing for this year’s prize, with celebrity campaign managers backing the weka (Weta Workshop), fairy tern (Hayley Holt), bittern (Te Radar), pukeko (Seven Sharp), kereru (Barnaby Weir), New Zealand dotterel (Sam Judd), shining cuckoo (Wallace Chapman) and black petrel (Jacinda Ardern). Herrick is backing the albatross and promising “a Banksy-style street campaign”, with the help of broadcaster Alison Ballance.

Herrick – naturally – is picking the albatross will win, “or the weka, because it’s got a fiercely creative team behind it and it’s crafty and cerebral. I also think the kaka has a shot at the top spot, because it’s making a return to suburbia with the help of sanctuaries like Zealandia.”

Fine, but an albatross against a Kermadec storm petrel? That’s hardly a fair fight. I’m backing the underdog, the enigmatic, critically endangered storm petrel. Thanks to the island eradication expertise of the Department of Conservation, the cats and rats are gone from the Kermadecs now, so perhaps there’s a chance for the storm petrel to spread its wings and find new breeding spots.

PAST BIRD OF THE YEAR WINNERS


The karearea or New Zealand falcon.


2012: Karearea
2011: Pukeko
2010: Kakariki
2009: Kiwi
2008: Kakapo
2007: Grey warbler
2006: Fantail
2005: Tui

Cast your vote for Bird of the Year at birdoftheyear.org.nz between September 30 and October 29.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

The Guns of Navarone writer knew he had to have a Kiwi hero
71551 2017-04-26 00:00:00Z History

The Guns of Navarone writer knew he had to have a …

by Charles Hamlin

When Alistair Stuart MacLean sent his heroes up a sheer cliff, he knew he had to have a New Zealander in charge.

Read more
NZ spied on Japan to help US - NSA document
71615 2017-04-26 00:00:00Z World

NZ spied on Japan to help US - NSA document

by Craig McCulloch

Leaked US documents reveal Kiwi spies gathered information about Japan at a whaling conference, then passed it onto the NSA ahead of a crucial vote.

Read more
Mustard with your mustelid? The future of ethical protein eating
70342 2017-04-26 00:00:00Z Innovation

Mustard with your mustelid? The future of ethical …

by Margo White

If we want to feed the masses without wrecking the planet with more intensive agriculture, we might need to reframe our attitude to insects.

Read more
Thomas Oliver is in a soul frame of mind
71574 2017-04-26 00:00:00Z Music

Thomas Oliver is in a soul frame of mind

by James Belfield

Last year’s Silver Scroll winner has a new album and is all set to go on tour.

Read more
Art of disruption: Fafswag's alternative look at the Pacific body
70635 2017-04-26 00:00:00Z Arts

Art of disruption: Fafswag's alternative look at t…

by Anthony Byrt

A group of young artists are making sure their voices are heard in the discussion of decolonisation and the representation of Pacific bodies.

Read more
My life in clothes: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas on glamour and grunge
70622 2017-04-26 00:00:00Z Style

My life in clothes: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas on glamo…

by Rose Hoare

Photographer Rebecca Zephyr Thomas describes how an anti-fashion phase has stuck with her through her life.

Read more
Phil Goff's half year looms with big fiscal hopes still alive
71557 2017-04-25 00:00:00Z Politics

Phil Goff's half year looms with big fiscal hopes …

by Todd Niall

Auckland's mayor Phil Goff is approaching his six-month mark in office saying he believes his two big budget ideas will eventually come through.

Read more
The forgotten tragedy of Kiwi heroes and the inspiration of The Guns of Navarone
71507 2017-04-25 00:00:00Z History

The forgotten tragedy of Kiwi heroes and the inspi…

by Charles Hamlin

A forgotten tragedy befell our first Special Forces in Churchill’s second bid for the Dardanelles.

Read more