Hihi introduction a milestone for Shakespear

Hihi are the latest addition to Shakespear Open Sanctuary. Photo, Anna Arrol

Forty hihi (stitchbird) will be released on NZ Defence Force land within Shakespear Open Sanctuary this week, on Friday July 3.

The reintroduction from Tiritiri Matangi Island was funded by the SOSSI fundraiser concert Swing on the Green hosted last year by Gulf Harbour Country Club, and a grant from Foundation North.

Hihi are rare, categorised as ‘threatened – nationally vulnerable’ by the Department of Conservation, meaning without intervention they face extinction in the medium term. They are the fifth bird species to be reintroduced into the sanctuary – joining whitehead (popokatea), little spotted kiwi (pukupuku), saddleback (tieke), and North Island robin (toutouwai).

Auckland Council’s Senior Ranger, Open Sanctuaries, Matt Maitland, says having hihi join other bird species reintroduced to the park shows that the pest free open sanctuary can support locally and nationally significant wildlife.

He says that partnerships with Shakespear Open Sanctuary Society (SOSSI), landowners the NZ Defence Force and Watercare Services, have been key to the return of the hihi.

The NZ Defence Force is delighted to have been able to help.

“We look forward to hearing their calls and seeing them around the base,” Royal NZ Navy spokesperson, Commander Ange Holland, says.

Outgoing SOSSI chair, Peter Jackson, says returning hihi to the Auckland mainland is a fantastic milestone, and a reward for years of effort by community volunteers to make the site safe and suitable for this beautiful and rare species.

He says while this may not be the end of the relocation programme, for a while at least, SOSSI’s focus may switch to improving public education and enjoyment of the park.

Scientists are supporting the process. Conservation Officer for the Hihi Conservation Charitable Trust, Mhairi McCready, says the Shakespear site has been assessed and shows great potential to support a managed hihi population.

A key factor for these hihi to thrive is providing feeding stations containing sugar syrup, as the birds have become used to these on Tiritiri Matangi. Volunteers have been busy making the feeding stations, which will need to be regularly replenished and cleaned. At least one of the feeding stations will be accessible from a track so visitors should soon be able to see these birds up close.

There is just one self-sustaining hihi population on Little Barrier Island, but also six conservation dependent populations on mainland and island sanctuaries, including neighbouring Tiritiri Matangi.

They were once widespread across the North Island and surrounding islands but became extinct on the mainland through mammalian predation, habitat loss and specimen collection.

Known to Maori as ‘a ray of sunshine’, hihi were said to be carriers of the sun, capturing the healing rays and spreading light throughout the forest, evidenced by their distinctive yellow markings.

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