Animals: 18 chicks: record breeding season for New Zealand's rarest bird

The Austral Terns (Sterna nereis) can look back on a record-breaking breeding season.

Animals: 18 chicks: record breeding season for New Zealand's rarest bird

The Austral Terns (Sterna nereis) can look back on a record-breaking breeding season. A total of 22 eggs were laid, from which 18 healthy chicks hatched, according to the Department of Conservation (DOC). These are proud numbers, as there are fewer than 40 specimens of the white-gray birds with their distinctive black top of the head and black-rimmed eyes in the Pacific state today.

The "Fairy terns" or "tara iti", as they are called in their homeland, now only breed at five nesting sites in the north of the country. “What is special this year is the higher success rate in chick survival, coupled with the lack of adverse weather conditions of previous breeding seasons,” said DOC Ranger Alex Wilson. Last year, Cyclone Gabrielle killed five adults and all but one of the chicks. This year, however, 13 of the young birds have already flown.

The chicks were hand-raised at Auckland Zoo before being moved to a purpose-built aviary in a predator-proof enclosure. "Here, the chicks go through critical developmental stages and hone their flight and foraging skills in a natural environment," Wilson explained. They should slowly get used to life in freedom.

The small birds were once widespread along the coasts of the North Island and also at river mouths in the South Island. Today there are only ten breeding pairs left. In addition to weather events such as storms and floods, the greatest threats include human destruction of natural habitats and introduced predators such as rats, cats, hedgehogs and martens. But beach activities - including the use of drones or campfires - also disturb the animals and drive them from their nests.

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