Hutton’s Shearwater chicks take flight

Each year it is a beautiful sight to see Hutton’s shearwaters, sea birds native and unique to Kaikoura and severely endangered, shear (hence their name) across the ocean to feed before returning to their nesting grounds in the Seaward Kaikoura Mountain Range. To protect their nests from predators, such as wild pigs and rodents, Hutton's shearwaters locate their nesting burrows on the steepest slopes of the mountain range at altitudes of 1200 to 1800 meters. Unfortunately, last year this practice exposed the birds to another danger - rock slides caused by the huge 14 November Kaikoura earthquake. 

Viewings from helicopters shortly after the earthquake indicated that at least 30% of the nesting burrows, and with them the resident birds and their chicks, of the only two natural colonies in existence, had been destroyed by landslides. To find out more it was necessary to undertake "burrow scoping " - humans on hands and knees examining each nest.  The fuller examination of the damage to the colonies had to wait until this month, April, the beginning of New Zealand's winter, to give the birds time to leave their nests and undertake their annual migration north to Australia's warmer waters.  

We now have a better picture of what happened as result of the earthquake. Unfortunately, the news is not good.  It appears that up to another 20% of the burrows/nest were destroyed and the chicks that they were intend to nurture perished.  The best estimates are that the population of chicks has been reduced to 50% of normal, at best. 

In the 1960s there were 8 large nesting colonies of shearwaters in Kaikoura.  Today there are two.  And now, thanks to the earthquake, the two are threatened.  The Hutton's Shearwater Charitable Trust was established in 2008 to protect and encourage the breeding of Hutton's shearwaters.  For this purpose the Trust has established an "artificial" breeding colony of burrows on the Kaikoura Peninsula. The Peninsula colony came through the earthquake in much better condition than the two mountain colonies, and will now be crucial to the efforts to increase and re-establish the population over the next few years.  

We urge you to support the The Hutton's Shearwater Charitable Trust as it continues its fantastic work to assure the survival and propagation of this unique and beautiful bird.  Please help these birds survive by purchasing one of the Trust's products or by making a donation to The Hutton's Shearwater Charitable Trust.