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Kākā makes Palliser its new home

Kākā are not usually seen out on the coast of South Wairarapa, but one has made its home there.

Cape Palliser holiday homeowner Jen Harmon and her husband Tommy first noticed a bird they had never seen before hanging out on the neighbour’s roof last Sunday.

“I was leaning into the boot, and it flew right above my head,” she said.

“I am scared of birds, so I was freaked out, but my husband was super excited.”

She said it started trying to pick the lights off, then flew up onto the guttering of their house.

“I think it was eating stuff out of our guttering,” she said.

Harmon was told by her neighbour – a long-time resident who was able to identify the bird as a kākā – that he had never seen one in the area before and that it was hanging around.

Pūkaha biodiversity manager Christine Reed confirmed it is rare to see kākā in South Wairarapa but said there are reports every year of individual bird sightings, mostly in Manawatū.

Reed said it is challenging to survey the kākā population even in confined areas, but there would be fewer than a thousand in Wairarapa.

Kākā are threatened, and there are likely fewer than 10,000 birds nationwide, she added.

“Kākā nest in holes in trees and are therefore vulnerable to pests such as stoats, possums and rats.”

The kākā at Pūkaha are known to reduce in numbers after the breeding season, and many likely disperse across Wairarapa in pursuit of food sources, Reed said.

Pūkaha advises the public not to feed kākā at home as human food can be bad for bird health and may cause them to behave abnormally, even problematically, she said.

Greater Wellington Regional Council senior terrestrial ecologist Dr Roger Uys said wild kākā are most often found in Wellington and Kāpiti Island.

“Seeing a kākā near Ngawi is an unusual but positive sign that the Wellington and Wairarapa populations have grown and are spreading across the region – a testament to the impact Zealandia and Pūkaha wildlife sanctuaries are having on the species,” he said.

“One kākā doesn’t make a breeding population, but explorers like this bird are the vanguard to forests across Wairarapa being reclaimed by our endemic birds.”

Kākā conservation status is assessed as regionally at risk/recovering, which means they are still of conservation concern, but the population is improving, Uys said.

“The reason kākā are doing so well outside Zealandia and Pūkaha is pest control.

“We know that nesting species like kākā are particularly vulnerable to predators, and Greater Wellington’s biosecurity work is helping kākā populations expand beyond the safety of a sanctuary and into the forest.

“While so many species are declining, this is an example of how we can and are turning things around.”

Department of Conservation senior ranger community Ronnie Priest said that kākā were once prolific in forest parks, including Aorangi Forest Park, where there may still be a remnant.

Priest said that trapping predators on properties and keeping pets away from nesting birds are a great start to bringing them back.

“We ask that people interested in assisting with kākā recovery seek out their local community group to see how they can help.

“We’re lucky in the Wairarapa to share our outdoor spaces with species like this.”

The public can log kākā sightings on the database project kakadatabase.nz, a community-led effort that helps communities get involved.

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