The Murchison Mountains survey: wild takahē populations

Department of Conservation —  15/12/2017

Over the past 6 weeks the Te Anau based Takahē Recovery Rangers have been walking alpine tussock areas in search of the wild takahē population of the Murchison Mountains. This is the first of a three-part series to show the work and results behind the survey.

Wild reared takahē at Burwood Takahē Centre. Photo: DOC


After being presumed extinct for 50 years, the South Island takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri) was rediscovered in the remote Murchison Mountains across the shore of Lake Te Anau, Fiordland, in 1948.  Fast forward nearly seven decades – the Murchison Mountain population is still the number one priority of DOC’s Takahē Recovery Programme.

By October 2017 the total takahē population has increased to almost 350 with around 130 living wild in the Murchison Mountains. Over several weeks Te Anau based Takahē Recovery Rangers have been in the field walking the alpine tussock of the Murchison Mountains in search of these birds. Ensuring the survival of the sole wild population is paramount to conserve genetic diversity and the natural foraging behaviours that make takahē wild and a functioning element of their wider habitat.

View from the top of the Murchison Mountains. Photo: DOC

The survey

Burwood supervisor Nicollette (Nichy) Brown with transmitter receiver. Photo: DOC

Based in the huts scattered through the Mountainous peninsula, teams of two surveyed over 100 known takahē breeding territories. The results will provide an estimated population count of the wild birds ( as we won’t see every wild bird), recording valuable information on bird pairings, breeding activity and survivorship.

Takahē breed every year and the surveys are conducted around November when the birds are focused on nesting.  Some of our rangers have been walking the hills for over 10 years and have well trained eyes for finding where birds have nested. Surveys conducted outside of nesting time, when the pairs are more dispersed have significantly less sightings – providing much lower population counts.

The rugged terrain of takahē habitat. Photo: DOC

Growing populations

The programme’s success has grown with the dedicated breeding programme at the Burwood Takahe Centre and thanks to the efforts of the secure island and mainland sanctuary sites around the country a total of 55 birds have been released into the Murchison Mountains since 2015.


The physical surveys are used to ground truth the population modelling. This survey will also provide the programme with valuable information on recently released birds and birds not previously recorded in the wild population. The last full survey was conducted in 2014 which recorded 77 birds roaming in the wild.  So, the results of the 2017 survey are greatly anticipated!

Adult takahē at Burwood Takahē Centre. Photo: DOC

This is the first of a three-part series on the survey – stay tuned for the results! For more information on the Takahē Recovery Programme, click here.

4 responses to The Murchison Mountains survey: wild takahē populations


    Fantastic news. Keep up your amazing work. Would dearly love to Know how Takahe Turnbul is doing out there at Burwood. Been a couple of years since I have been to see him. Much appreciated thanks…Janet Marsh

    Kim Brandon 16/12/2017 at 5:17 pm

    Great news. Great work Doc rangers

    Martin Broadbent 15/12/2017 at 7:56 am

    Wow that amazing, it must of been quite a moment rediscovering them again

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. The Murchison Mountains survey: The results are in « Conservation blog - February 10, 2018

    […] the Takahē Recovery Team found. This is the third blog in the takahē survey series. Check out the first and second blogs for more […]