By DOC Ranger, Cody Thyne
As a ranger based in Twizel the main part of my job is supporting the Kakī Recovery Programme.
Kakī/black stilts are one of New Zealand’s rarest birds and the mission of the Kakī Recovery Programme is to increase their population in the wild and ensure this special bird is not lost for future generations.
As part of a small team of four permanent and a few seasonal staff, my responsibilities involve managing kakī in the wild. This includes counting how many adults are out there; traipsing up and down numerous braided rivers in the Mackenzie Basin searching for breeding pairs; observing and interpreting behaviour; finding their nests; reading leg bands; and collecting eggs from the wild to bring back to the captive rearing facility in Twizel.
Walking up and down large braided rivers isn’t for everyone, particularly if you don’t like uneven ground, stumbling around, getting your feet and other body parts wet, super hot days with no shade, howling winds, abrupt temperature changes, long periods of time staring through a spotting scope with one eye, and your lunchtime sandwiches turning to toast upon being exposed to the dry alpine air. However, the alpine views are breathtaking, and the chance to see wildlife that manages to scrape out a living in this environment, is definitely worth a trip to this part of the country.
The eggs I collect are brought back to the captive rearing facility in Twizel which is also home to a number of kakī pairs for captive breeding.
The facility is where kakī eggs are artificially incubated and the young chicks are raised in captivity.
At 3–9 months they are released into the wild. Rearing them in captivity significantly increases their chances of survival by preventing predation when they are most vulnerable and it also gets them through their first winter, which can be tough for young birds in the wild.
Nick Tomalin was a volunteer with at the captive rearing facility last summer while on sabbatical from The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the United Kingdom.
Nick’s help was hugely appreciated at the busiest time of the year, and he managed to film a great short video about the work that goes on at the facility.
Watch Nick’s video of an average day in the life of a kakī aviculturalist: