Stoat versus rifleman

Department of Conservation —  12/12/2013

The bush wren, laughing owl, and native thrush are all extinct.

Stoats are thought to have caused their demise—as well as the decline of many of New Zealand’s other indigenous bird species. They also feed heavily on our native reptiles and invertebrates.

The images below show the devastation that a stoat can wreck on our native species—in this case New Zealand’s smallest bird, the rifleman/titipounamu.

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DOC ranger, Anja McDonald, sent through these heartbreaking images.

They were taken at Tennyson Inlet in the Marlborough Sounds. She explains:

The male bird was in the nest when the stoat came and we don’t see any pictures of him coming out again. The rifleman mother then returns to her nest. The things in her beak are likely to be the remains of either her husband or her chicks.

When we climbed the tree later, to bring the camera in, there was only a female around, which suggests the stoat possibly ate both the adult male and the chicks.

A very sad end for these small birds, but a important reminder of the pest control work that needs to be done to protect our native species.

13 responses to Stoat versus rifleman

    Chris Charles 17/12/2013 at 2:56 pm

    These images are very powerful and could have a very strong external value. They would really help NZer’s understand the aggressiveness of the stoat and their killing prowess. Is there any way to disseminate these pictures more widely via various mediums?


    I witnessed a Mouse plague after a Masting in the Mid 1990’s in the Lewis Pass area. We were at the Hut at Lake Daniels, No matter where you looked there were mice, thousands of them. The hut was crawling with them. You could feel them running over your sleeping bag while you tried to sleep.
    The next day while out exploring we were honored by a visit from about 30-40 Kakariki. It was amazing. they were then in a blink they were all gone. I have never seen this since.
    When home I did some research and found that the Kakariki feed on the beech seeds and this is also the time when they nest. By the time their chicks are fledglings the predator numbers are growing and the seed source is running down. The next easiest is the Kakariki
    DOC Waimakariri tell me they have identified areas with special populations and have already started with 1080. The Poulter and Hawdon areas have already been done but will have a followup if needed in Autumn.
    I hope other areas will get a similar treatment other wise that 25 million will be chicken feed. (no pun intended)


    Thanks for all your comments so far – it’s great to get a conversation going about this important topic. Experts conservatively estimate more than 25 million native birds are killed each year by imported predators such as the stoat. And Graham is right, with a beech mast currently developing (i.e. unusually prolific summer flowering in our forests), we could potentially have a pest plague on our hands later next year. We’d like to reassure you that we are very aware of the situation and are monitoring forest conditions and tracking predator populations to be ready to react. Like you all, we want our iconic species, such as the rifleman, to survive and thrive.


    This story is repeated countless times throughout NZ. Will those who should be making the decisions about caring for our heritage ever get to see or understand how important it is to get serious with funding for the use of 1080.
    One of the problems with trapping not fully appreciated is the thousands of Km of costly crisscrossing tracking to cut and maintain allowing these predators to follow the trappers scents allowing easy bush motorway access to the bird feast,


    The forest habitats of these birds need pest control with aerial 1080 – it is the best tool available to DOC right now and the species do not have the time to wait for years of scientific testing for alternatives. We are losing, at a conservative estimate, 26 million native birds a year to pests and predators – that figure should be headlined and move the managers and politicians to have the courage to save our forests.


    It wasn’t stoats that caused the demise of Bush Wrens on Big South Cape. The biggest threat to our native birds is rats. You can trap stoats all you like but birds will still go downhill as per Rotoiti when rat control wasn’t done there.


    And sadly it will get worse in Autumn 2014. There has been a massive masting of the Beech Trees. (i Understand Nationwide, but certainly in the South Island) Rats and Mice numbers will be huge, then come the population increase in Stoats. They eventually take care of the Rats and Mice. Then……..Its the birds.
    Proactive now targeting Mice and Rats with 1080, love it or hate it is the only way. Reduce the breading animals 9Mice and Rats and there will be less stoats.


    And DoC haven’t met one of their pest control targets this year (by their own reports) They have been stripped of resources and spend more time sending out party political statements for Nick Smith than in protecting New Zealand’s native species. You should be ashamed DoC.

    Anna McKnight 12/12/2013 at 1:56 pm

    I took that personally Mr Stoat! I am very fond of the Riflemen after living alongside them in Mt Cook. Footage like this is so important to keep up the war against the introduced predators.

    Elizabeth Thomson 12/12/2013 at 11:52 am

    I’m fascinated by NZ birdlife but I’m learning fast the damage that these predators do (also cats, rats etc) We in Scotland accept their presence but it is a very different problem for you. I wonder how many Scottish settlers’ boats also brought unwelcome visitors?


    Nasty, nasty animals those stoats! Go get them.

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