One for the birds

Flourishing... This summer’s settled weather in Otago has proved to be a bonus for young native...
Flourishing... This summer’s settled weather in Otago has proved to be a bonus for young native birds, including tomtits. Photos by Stephen Jaquiery
Brown creeper
Brown creeper

The lack of late summer storms is having a beneficial effect on the survival of young native birds in Otago.

Normally, storms kill many young birds and damage their nests, but this year species such as bellbirds, tomtits and brown creepers are thriving in settled weather.

Waitati ornithologist Derek Onley says the weather made a ‘‘huge difference'' to small bush birds which can nest two or three times a year and produce three or four young.

‘‘These little birds are a bit like caterpillars on your cabbages.

‘‘If it's a good year for them you'll get millions of them, but if it's a bad year they won't do too well.''

He said bad weather can account for up to 80% of young birds, but in a good year populations can grow by 50% to 60%.

This year there were bellbirds ‘‘all over the place'' and while tui numbers were ‘‘pretty low'' in Dunedin, they had increased this summer.

The warm weather produced more food for birds in the form of flowering flax and increased numbers of insects. It also meant birds required less food to keep warm.

Department of Conservation ranger Graeme Loh said it had been a ‘‘ripper of a year''.

Seabirds such as red-billed gulls and white-fronted terns, which were considered to be in ‘‘gradual decline'', had also benefited from the lack of storms.

‘‘They nest on cliffs. That's probably why the good weather helps them. Storms literally can knock them off the cliffs.''

Aside from the weather, urban rats were a big issue for many native birds.

‘‘People don't appreciate how many rats are around town.''

Compost bins and food put out for pets were two aspects of city gardens that rats found attractive.

‘‘This is the time of year when people start striking rats and mice because their population's high and they are starting to come indoors as the weather gets colder".

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