By Jamie Quirk, DOC Ranger, Gisborne
In December 2014, I got a call from local man, Nigel Marshall. His son Jethro, had located a New Zealand falcon/kārearea nest in a pine forest about five minutes from Gisborne.
As falcons are ground nesting they are vulnerable to predation, so I started a small, simple, and low cost project to protect these chicks.
Firstly, I had to get permission from the land owner. He was hard to locate, but my experience as a Compliance Officer came in handy, and I soon located him – an Irishman living in Whangamata.
We got the thumbs up to set out a very simple cordon of DOC200 traps.
I then contacted Wingspan Birds of Prey Centre in Rotorua to let them know about the discovery (you never know when you might have to send them abandoned chicks).
From the first visit, I estimated the chicks to be five days old. Extremely cute fluff balls, destined to be aerial killers within 60 days, if all goes well.
New Zealand falcon/kārearea are carnivores, so their nests can be a bit grubby. Flies sometimes lay eggs on chicks, and that can cause problems.
I contacted Lyndon Perriman, a DOC ranger in Otago to ask about how they have dealt with fly-strike in albatross nests on the Otago Peninsula. Who knew that peppermint essence was the answer?
I visited the nest every two weeks to check the traps and get photos. Note to self, Ma and Pa falcon don’t like you taking unauthorised baby photos, so be very careful when visiting.
New Zealand falcon chicks take 38 days to go from hatching to fledging, but I almost had a heart attack when the chicks were not in the nest at 28 days. Turns out they had moved about five metres from the nest and were starting to develop feathers. This would be the last time I would see them on the ground.
During Christmas and New Year I visited the site in my own time, amazed as they continued to survive and thrive.
In early January, 43 days after hatching, I managed to spy a fully feathered falcon, 10 metres above ground, perched in a pine tree. The ever present angry parents were still close by, protecting their off-spring, but my job was done.
I made sure I removed all the traps and left the place in a tidy state, then I took some time to sit down and enjoy what had been achieved. Not very many people get to witness these events.
Both juvenile falcons have now left home and should set up their own territories within 10 kilometres of home. Sadly, there is a 70% mortality rate for kārearea in their first year, but at least we’ve given these birds a fighting start.
Excellent article. Is there any measures taken for pest control? Against such risks as rodents? On the chicks?
Great work Jamie and a great story, thanks for sharing. PS Did you catch any pests?
We did not catch any pests. There was very little on-ground sign of predators, but they would’ve definitely be present. Full growth pine forests are quite barren places. The aggressive nature of both falcons would’ve also played a major roll.
Sweet story and lovely images!
There are a few gaps in my understanding of how things rolled out here…can you help?
First of all, what do the traps look like and how do they work? How did they help protect the chicks from fly strikes?
Catrina, The traps are a standard DOC weapon. A rectangular wooden box with 2 steel kill traps, baited with a fresh egg. These are for stoats, weasels etc. The fly strike issue did not eventuate – the peppermint essence smell drives flies away from the nest site, thus preventing fly strike.