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Rifleman takes a perch in Wellington

Zealandia is proud to announce that New Zealand’s smallest bird is coming to Wellington city.

Photo: Janice McKenna

Around 60 tītipounamu / rifleman are being translocated from Wainuiomata to the sanctuary to establish a wild population in mid-March.

The translocation has been in planning for a number of years, and has been made possible because of an increase in tītipounamu numbers in the Wainuiomata Mainland Island.

“We’re really positive about the translocation of the tītipounamu to Zealandia, we want to see the species take wing across the region,” said Councillor Prue Lamason, Parks Portfolio Leader, Greater Wellington Regional Council

“We’re starting to see the impact of Zealandia’s halo effect, with native birds now much more common in the capital,” said Lamason. “It’s heartening that the regional council is adding to that by providing a source for species that in time will also begin to colonise the capital.”

This translocation will contribute to the conservation of tītipounamu across the region, by establishing another population, safeguarded in the sanctuary from introduced predators.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing these beautiful manu, these birds, here within the safety of the Zealandia fence,” said Dr Danielle Shanahan, Director of the Centre for People and Nature at Zealandia. “Hopefully, all going well, within a few years we’ll see them spilling beyond the Zealandia fence and into the suburbs of Wellington.”

Tītipounamu/rifleman are the ninth bird species to be brought back to Wellington by Zealandia.

This translocation is supported by the Greater Wellington Regional Council, the Wellington City Council, Taranaki Whānui, Department of Conservation, and Ngāti Toa Rangatira.

About tītipounamu / rifleman

– Generally considered New Zealand’s smallest bird, tītipounamu/rifleman weigh in at a tiny six grams. This small bird punches above its weight however, and holds a very important place in New Zealand’s natural history.

– Tītipounamu belong to an ancient endemic family of Gondwanan origin, Acanthisittidae (New Zealand wrens). This family has just two surviving species, the rifleman and the rock wren, and is completely separate from all other 5,000 birds in its order. Five other species within the family have become extinct due to introduced predators.

– The name tītipounamu loosely translates to a mirage of greenstone, referring to the bird’s green plumage and fast-moving nature. These charismatic birds appear in many stories as one of the messengers of Tāne, the god of the forest.

– Tītipounamu are still messengers for the forest today, their presence giving us an indication of ecosystem health.

About Wainuiomata Mainland Island

– The Wainuiomata Mainland Island was established in 1200 pristine forested hectares of the upper Wainuiomata catchment in 2005, with the goal of controlling pest animals and keeping ecological weeds to low levels. It is an area of intensive predator control because it is home almost entirely to native forest that is close to its original state – an area of regional importance. This includes old and large rata, rimu, matai, and a ‘manuka fen’ wetland. It provides an important breeding habitat for a range of native forest bird species including threatened and at-risk species, as well as threatened plant species.

– The mainland island is situated within a water collection area, and public entry is severely restricted. This area is responsible for supplying about a fifth of our region’s water supply.

– Translocation has been made possible because of the healthy tītipounamu habitat provided by the Wainuiomata Mainland Island, which is within one of the region’s most well-established Key Native Ecosystems – a group of biodiversity hotspots protected by Greater Wellington through extensive predator and pest plant control.

– Tītipounamu and other native birds such as kereru, tui, whitehead, bellbird, tomtit, fantail, grey warbler, and silvereye can be found in the Wainuiomata Mainland Island because of the improved state of its forests and predator control work undertaken to ensure these species thrive.

– Monitoring of pests, birds and vegetation began in 2005 so that biodiversity improvements and operational effectiveness could be measured over time. Greater Wellington are happy that rifleman numbers have improved and are stabilising, making translocation possible. Added pest control will be carried out in this area for the coming breeding season to further assist the local population of rifleman.

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