Aotearoa's rarest bird, fairy tern/tara iti, gets boost in numbers

New Zealand’s rarest bird has just had a boost in numbers, with the Department of Conservation welcoming three new fairy tern/tara iti chicks.

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With only 40 left, DOC were surprised to see eggs in nests this season. Source: 1 NEWS

Only around 40 of the native birds are thought to be left, but one chick hatched in late December, and another two were born on new year’s day.

Ayla Wiles from DOC says it was a very special start to the year.

"It was really exciting. I was waiting to see if one might hatch last year and one might hatch this year ... but they both hatched on the same day."

Although it’s an interesting family dynamic in Waipu.

"It’s a mother and a son. It sometimes happens, with small populations, you’re really limited in your choices. This pair produces infertile eggs so we had to wait for a fertile egg to become available from another site. We had a nest with eggs in Mangawhai which timed in with when these guys laid their eggs," Ms Wiles says.

Fairy terns can’t be bred in captivity because they’re very particular about their nests. They can be found near beaches in Northland’s Waipu, Mangawhai and north Auckland's Pakiri.

DOC has gone to great lengths to protect the birds, moving their nests away from the shore line, and even delivering them shells, to help them camouflage their eggs in the sand.

Fairy terns used to roam right around the country, but by the 1980’s, there were thought to be less than 10 left, due to predators like cats and rats, as well as habitat destruction.

This year’s breeding season was lower than DOC had hoped, with two less chicks than last year.

"We had a few early losses of nests and we lost a breeding female who got sick. A couple of the pairs also haven’t been nesting."

But Ms Wiles says the three new chicks are looking happy and healthy. In a week and a half, they’ll be assessed to find out what sex they are, and when they’re a month old, they’ll start learning to fly.

"It’s important because it’s the New Zealand fairy tern. It’s only found here. It’s our responsibility to look after all our species, no matter how big or small."