In the Frame: Wildlife Portraits at Natureland Wildlife Trust
Predator proof nestboxes more than a pipe dream
NOVEMBER 5, 2017 BY KATE GUTHRIE
Kathryn Marshall, helped by a team of Waimea Menz Shed volunteers, with some expert advice from ornithologist Peter Gaze, has designed and tested predator proof nest boxes for kakariki (parakeets) – and it all came about because she wanted to help another rare bird, the mohua (yellowhead).
But before kakariki, before mohua even – it was cheeky, inquisitive weka that got Kathryn’s attention, which just goes to show how one wildlife encounter can so easily lead to another and another…
“With trapping in the hills around Nelson, western weka came back into properties. It is the first time in my lifetime that weka have been around Nelson city. They were breeding in my garden so I started helping the birds and their chicks, putting out water and food. They would bathe in the water dish and were great parents, raising a number of chicks over a year.
“Mohua had been bird of the year (in 2013) and I thought it would be great to try and bring back mohua to the Nelson region. They used to be locally common and they’re good breeders, but they’ve not been seen in a lifetime. I thought we’ve done it for weka, let’s do it for mohua!”
Kathryn carries out predator control on her own property and is well aware of the threats they pose to a hole-nesting bird like mohua.
“I made a list of the problems:
• wasps (competitors for honeydew and insects)
• a long time on the nest which is a hole in a tree, making females, eggs and chicks vulnerable
“They’re too long on the nest – but on the positive side they have up to 4 eggs, twice a year and nest in beech forest. Nelson has the right environment, but not the right predator control.”
“Then I talked to people about the best and quickest ways to help mohua, how to control predators and increase their numbers.”
It was Kathryn’s father who suggested predator-proof nests. But what sort of nestbox design would work?
Ornithologist Peter Gaze puts up a rifleman nestbox in the Halo trial area.
“I talked to (Project Janszoon) ornithologist Peter Gaze who told me about a research paper on riflemen from Canterbury University. It showed that a simple nestbox, where it had a very small 2.5cm hole, most predators couldn’t get it.”
Most, but not all.
There were more questions:
“How do we build it? How to secure it to a tree and secure a lid? What were the best materials cost-wise and for durability? I asked the Menz Shed at Waimea to make one up and we problem-solved with the prototype. We made a variation with a metal plate on front which meant that predators couldn’t get a grip and couldn’t enlarge the small entrance hole.”
“After 3 goes, we came up with 2 prototypes which we showed to Peter Gaze. He thought they were really good! I asked Peter if we could trail them at Brook Waimarama, but it’s a fenced sanctuary without predators, so we trialled them in the ‘halo’ region outside the fence. Peter helped devise a layout and we put 50 up. We worked with Friends of Flora and Project Janszoon to get some trial nest boxes installed this spring. Previous research showed there was a statistically significant increase in riflemen population.”
It was at this point that kakariki came into the picture.
“Natureland in Nelson is breeding kakariki for release and they asked if we’d try and come up with something for them to trial. Rats can even cause problems for the breeders,” Kathryn explains.
Like mohua, wild kakariki usually nest in holes in trees, making adult females and the eggs and chicks very vulnerable. Once again, Menz Shed were keen to help.
Men’s Shed Waimea members (from left) Roy Tomlinson, Alan Kissell and Graham Fittock.
“They said ‘we’ll work with you’. Alan Kissell facilitated and Graham Fittock from Menz Shed started looking on ‘Google’ at research. Graham found a pipe design that had been devised for the North American song thrush. The pipe, 15cm diameter was cut on a 49 degrees angle , with cut edges sanded, so that it was too long for predators to enter from the bottom, 18cm, and they couldn’t drop down from the top 36cm. The thrush nested within the tube but kakariki are too big to do that.”
More experimentation followed.
Meg Rutledge at Natureland with kakariki nestboxes, showing predator proof opening.
“We took a kakariki nestbox from Natureland and stuck a pipe on the end,” Kathryn says. “Natureland have yellow and red kakariki nest box designs, so we standardised those into one nestbox that we could make. We also needed to look at the core material, because kakariki gnaw nestboxes and we had to provide a safe, chew proof ladder at the bottom for the chicks to fledge.”
“We knew we could keep predators out, but would red and yellow kakariki use the boxes? Would a smaller pipe work with a metal plate?”
The smaller pipe option turned out to be a ‘no’, then a message came through from Natureland. ‘Yes – the kakariki are using the nestboxes’.
In fact when Kathryn and a journalist went along to Natureland to check the results out, they put a nest box up and 3 kakariki immediately started arguing over it. Not only were they using the boxes – they loved them!
The predator-proof nestboxes are currently being used in Natureland’s rat-free breeding areas and are a precaution should rats ever get in. It also means that kakariki are familiar with the boxes and, when birds are subsequently released, nestboxes are put out at the same time for them to use.
The basic pipe design has proven adaptable for all sorts of nestbox variations but Kathryn and her team are yet to test the extent of this usage for additional species of birds.
“Natureland asked for South Island kaka nestboxes,” Kathryn says, “so we refined Zealandia’s North Island kaka nestbox design and the orders were done last week. We’ve had orders for morepork boxes and requests for a South Island saddleback.”
On a personal level, Kathryn is also determined that mohua will soon have their own nestbox design too. It was, after all, why she began this journey.
“It’s all an interim measure before 2050,” explains Kathryn. “We’ve created an option for right now and there has suddenly been heaps of interest. Even though there are predator-proof islands, many of them are short of nest-sites.”
After all, we can’t put all our rare natives on islands. Safer mainland options are very important too, not least in order to maintain genetic diversity.
“MP Nicky Wagner asked if we could roll out the project around all the Menz Sheds in New Zealand,” Kathryn says. “We’re hoping to produce a CAD design that’s easy to share. There’s more to it than you’d think, but we’ve now got a product that works made of materials that are safe.”
What is, perhaps, most amazing of all is that this has all happened in a very short space of time.
“We only started, as a hobby, at the end of last year,” Kathryn says. “Now is the first full breeding season.”
A ‘ute-load’ of riflemen nestboxes, yet to have the lid fastening mechanism added.
Article by Jacquie Walters
If you haven’t visited Natureland in a while you have missed the remarkable transformation that is taking place there under the guidance of Natureland Director Meg Rutledge and her dedicated team of staff and trustees.
Native plantings are flourishing and the zoo has taken the very deliberate stance of representing the region around it in terms of flora and fauna. There’s an area that’s been set aside to showcase some of the major regional crops and produce, for example. Importantly, Natureland is also shining a light on one of our region’s most iconic species – the kea.
Kea are regarded by many as the most intelligent bird species in the world, says Meg. “They are able to use tools, adapt and learn and teach strategies to other birds, and they can work together to solve problems. they have also shown that they can move into new habitats in search of food – such as above the treeline.”
Read more: https://nelsonforests.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Combining-forces-to-care-for-kea.pdf
Natureland Wildlife Trust voluntarily sought a formal audit of animal welfare, undertaken by the Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia (ZAA) in October 2015. This is the first audit undergone under the new Trust, and since the ZAA Accreditation Program began. The accreditation programme focuses on moving beyond minimizing negative states, and achieving positive affective states. Having choice over physical, environmental, and behavioural aspects, as well as the opportunity for mental wellbeing and sound health are the key requirements. The programme is an industry first, and helps to set welfare as a key factor for being a good zoo.
Director Meg Rutledge says “I am delighted with our achievement. Since taking over in November 2013, animal welfare has been our top priority. Natureland is a small zoo with a long history, and now the community can be proud to know that we endeavor to provide our animals best lives possible.”
Our animals receive medical care from Halifax Veterinary Centre, themselves a leader in best practice for the nation. Additionally, Natureland’s animal care team leader, Brigitte Kreigenhofer, specialized in wild animal nutrition. Senior keeper Jennifer Pettigrew is a qualified vet nurse, and our three animal keepers each have degrees and qualifications relevant to animal science.
Combined, the passion and dedication of the team has transformed Natureland from a nostalgic local treasure into an asset for regional biodiversity conservation and a site the community can be proud of.
The team at Natureland has had a busy couple of years making steady and significant improvements to the small charity’s operation. Volunteers and local organizations have supported the charity in upgrading some of the older areas of the zoo bit by bit. Nelson City Council remains a key supporter. Natureland is preparing to open a new area of the zoo devoted to breeding native avian species for release on 21 June 2016. Animal welfare is the cornerstone to all of these outstanding achievements in only a few short years.
The sound of kakariki chirping could be heard amongst the other animals at Natureland as a flock of the native parrots made themselves at home in a purpose built aviary.
Natureland Wildlife Trust is breeding the kakariki on behalf of Project Janszoon and the Department of Conservation to help boost the native parrot population in the Abel Tasman National Park.
Eight of the yellow-crowned parakeets were transferred from Long Island in Queen Charlotte Sound to Natureland on Wednesday.