Hide your snacks: Litter and our birds

Department of Conservation —  16/01/2019

When we think of litter, we probably have a pretty solid idea of what that is. Maybe it’s a plastic bag, or a chips packet. What about a drink bottle? Sure. But would you consider tossing your banana peel into the bushes as OK to do because ‘it will biodegrade’? How about your sandwich crust? It could be assumed that most people have tossed one or more of these organic items away into nature, not even considering that they are indeed, a litter bug. In reality, the concept of ‘litter’ is a bit blurrier than we give it credit. When you’re out in nature, the right thing to do is leave no trace of your visit at all – remove all items you brought in with you, including or orange peel and other organic matter.

Keeping this in mind, what does litter on conservation land mean for New Zealand’s native critters? Most can understand how an animal consuming a bottle cap isn’t exactly beneficial to its health, but some of the unexpected effects of litter on our wildlife are intriguing.


📷: Tahu Taylor-Koolen

Consider the kea. This unique, nationally endangered parrot and its curious personality have reached international stardom, made famous for their mischievous and sometimes destructive behaviour. The birds’ astoundingly high intelligence and love of all things novel commonly gets them into trouble. This penchant for playfulness is more common in young kea and is known as neophilia (the love of new things). This is why kea will flock to human occupied areas within their natural ranges, as they have endless fun with man-made items.

Kea are omnivorous, meaning that they scour the high country for fruits, shoots, nectar, seeds and if they’re lucky, a juicy huhu grub. This generalist foraging behaviour has led them to ‘scrounge’ for food associated with humans – including your food scraps.

If you happen to visit any of these areas, you’ll find signs declaring: “DO NOT FEED KEA”. Much like our beloved pets, human food products can be lethal to kea. Not only is our food unhealthy for their systems, it can also temporarily reduce their appetites to allow them more time to tamper with objects, essentially encouraging their destructive behaviour.

Kea on car

📷: Shellie Evans © | Two Go Tiki Touring

To prevent kea from messing with your stuff and putting themselves in danger, it’s our responsibility to help keep their environment safe. It’s like having a toddler or curious puppy around. So, when you are going somewhere with kea make sure you remove all surrounding temptation – loose clothing, backpacks, food and brightly coloured objects.

Don’t forget that it’s not just kea that are at risk. All of our native wildlife will benefit from having less litter in their habitat. If you’re camping in non-alpine regions, there’s a chance you could have a few cheeky weka poking around your campsite. Like kea, they’re attracted to human activity and they won’t hesitate to pilfer your goods too. Make sure to tuck everything that could be tampered with safely away from prying beaks.

Weka at campsite

📷: Shellie Evans

Protecting New Zealand’s native species can be as simple as putting that apple core in your backpack. By keeping all – and we mean all – of your litter to yourself, and making sure your gear is kept secure you’ll keep our birds safe, as well as allowing them to maintain their natural foraging behaviour. In addition, you’ll also reduce the number of invasive predators being attracted to the site. Organic waste can unnecessarily attract rats, mice, stoats and ferrets to precious areas on conservation land.

What should we do with our rubbish if there isn’t a bin around? Simple – take it with you. Whether it’s your banana peel or the cling film you wrapped your snacks in, take it all out with you to dispose of properly. You could even pick up someone else’s litter that you’ve spotted. Because that’s the Kiwi way.

litter blog - campaign image

If you see a bird or any other native animal entangled in rubbish, or in unnatural danger, please call the DOC hotline: 0800 362 468



6 responses to Hide your snacks: Litter and our birds

    Gurnard Mills 18/01/2019 at 10:02 pm

    We’ve also seen many campers who put their rubbish on a plastic bag and leave it outside their vehicle/tent, only to be found “broken into” the next morning by a weka or a rat. Doesn’t really help when DoC stops providing a safe way to dispose of rubbish on the campsites that people pay money to stay at. Try going thru Molesworth over 2 weeks. There’s nowhere no dispose of rubbish between Hanmer Springs and Seddon. We had a bag full of maggots by the time we arrived to civilisation.

    Barry Eaton 17/01/2019 at 7:54 pm

    OK so we all know kea are curious. So when the whole countryside is smothered in bright green nice smelling 1080 pellets what makes you think the kea won’t find them very attractive. I have seen first hand kea eating 1080 and DOC just denies this is happening You are without doubt going to make the kea extinct if you carry on with this deadly poison which is killing all of our wildlife

      Lesley Gambrill 21/01/2019 at 4:40 pm

      Put your energy into figuring out a viable alternative and then DOC will stop using 1080.

      Brian Swale 28/01/2019 at 9:08 am

      * 60% of kea nests are attacked by predators. Prolonged attacks by stoats on defenceless kea chicks are common and have devastating results. On filmed evidence a stoat attacked two kea chicks for 2 hours. One died immediately, the other lived a further 40 hours with its injuries. Substantial evidence shows that kea population numbers continue to increase as a result of using 1080. Continued research is being done to develop 1080 bait which is unattractive to kea

      * Kea nesting improves after 1080 treatment.
      The endangered kea is the world’s only alpine parrot, and is renowned for being smart and inquisitive. Kea will explore novel objects and scavenge for human food given the opportunity. But this can be their downfall when birds interfere with traps and poison bait meant to protect them.

      DOC scientists have monitored kea after 1080 operations for a number of years. This has allowed us to weigh up benefits of pest control with the risk that 1080 will kill some birds.

      Overall, monitoring shows that when predators are controlled with well-timed aerial 1080 treatment and/or traps, about 70% of kea nests are successful, ie produce at least one chick.

      Without pest control, typically about 60% of kea nests fail – mostly due to being preyed on by stoats or possums, and in some areas, feral cats.

    Peter Thomas 17/01/2019 at 4:05 pm

    Hi Eugene, your cryptic and scarcely believable comment barely warrants a response. Unless you can elaborate and substantiate it with evidence, I for one will have to file it and you in the drawer reserved for DOC bashing zealots. Best Peter


    Some great tips here.
    would be awesome if the DoC did that same.
    Last June DoC kindly dumped around 300kg of lead pellets into MT Cook national, prime Kea habitat, when we know Kea are struggling with Lead poisoning issues.

    Thansk Eugene