Behind-the-Scenes: Kākā return to the Abel Tasman coast

Department of Conservation —  01/11/2019

Kākā flying over the Bark Bay/Wairima estuary or chattering in the trees have become a new eye-catching spectacle on the Abel Tasman National Park coast. This spring, 24 kākā were released there as part of Project Janszoon which with DOC is restoring the park’s ecology. Motueka Ranger Dan Arnold, one of the DOC team that works for Project Janszoon, tells the behind the scenes story of getting the kākā to the bay.  

Kākā at Bark Bay. Photo: Ruth Bollongino

It’s fantastic to see the kākā flying around Bark Bay and visitors seem to really enjoy them.

Kākā used to be seen in large numbers in the Abel Tasman but predators had driven down their numbers and it was believed only a few males were left.

Dan carries a kākā in a bag to an aviary at Bark Bay. Photo: Robyn Janes

Predator numbers are now low with stoat trapping over more than 90% of the park by Project Janszoon, DOC, the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust and an Air New Zealand-supported project, and aerial predator control undertaken when needed. This has made it possible to bring native birds back into the park including kākā that were first moved into inland Abel Tasman in 2015. During this year’s beech mast it was exciting to find at least six kākā chicks were fledged at the top of the park, their mothers were captive-raised birds that mated with wild males. 

The next step was to release kākā the on the coast where the noisy, inquisitive forest parrots could be seen by the many thousands of visitors to the park’s bays and coast track.

It began with putting radio transmitters on female kākā in Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi National Parks in late 2018 so we could later track them to their nests and collect the eggs or chicks. This worked well and all the kākā pairs re-nested and produced another clutch of eggs so the local population also got more birds. 

Dan high in a tree on Perry Saddle to collect eggs from the nest in the photo below. Photo: Ron Moorhouse
Females usually leave when people appear at their nest but this female was reluctant to budge. Fortunately, she eventually did, and Dan was able to grab her eggs. Photo: Dan Arnold, DOC.

The eggs and chicks were sent to various wildlife centres around the country where the staff did a great job of rearing the chicks. Some of the Bark Bay kākā also came from the South Island Kākā Captive Breeding programme.

I next saw the first cohort of kākā for release at Natureland Zoo in Nelson where final preparations were made for their move to the Abel Tasman. It was pretty cool seeing them now fully grown, especially two that were from three eggs I had grabbed from a Heaphy Track nest. The third egg apparently was infertile so had no chick.

First up, we had to catch the birds in the aviary. We do this using a net, like a big fishing net, with which we can pin birds against the fence or catch them in flight. Once caught, we put transmitters on them and coloured bands on their legs to track and identify individual birds.

Dan and Ron Moorhouse attaching a transmitter to one of the kākā at Natureland Zoo. Photo: Bruce Vander Lee
Jim Livingstone passes a kākā in a transfer box to Dan at Bark Bay. Photo: Bruce Vander Lee.

At Bark Bay, the kākā were held in an aviary for a few weeks at first to tie them to the area. 

A lot of people involved with the project, including Abel Tasman Youth Ambassadors, were there for the release of the first 12 kākā on September 24. It was exciting to see the birds come out of the aviary and start exploring in the wild for the first time.

The other 12 kākā were released from the Bark Bay aviary during October.

We’ve been monitoring the kākā once a week since their release but we’re often down there twice a week. One or two of the birds are quite friendly and have been hanging around the hut and campsite but most of them are keeping their distance and coping well with being in the wild.

We’re asking visitors not to feed the kākā as feeding them human food can cause them ill-health. Most people are getting the message.  

We’ve put up signs telling people not to feed the kākā and to leave them to find their own natural food and live wild. Abel Tasman tourist operators are also helpfully giving the message to visitors.

Visitors are also asked to help with keeping an eye on the kākā by reporting kākā sightings through the Abel Tasman app that can be downloaded free near Bark Bay Hut from Google Play or the App store.

About Project Janszoon

Project Janszoon is a privately funded trust named after Dutch Explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman. It is working with DOC, the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust, Ngāti Rarua, Ngāti Tama and Te Ātiawa and the community to reduce predator numbers and weeds, restore ecosystems and re-introduce native plants and animals in the Abel Tasman National Park.

A thank you for supporters

Project Janszoon and DOC thank Natureland Wildlife Trust, the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital, Dunedin Botanic Garden, Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, DOC Te Anau, Queens Park Invercargill, Orokonui Sanctuary and Bush Haven for their work in rearing the kākā chicks. Thanks also go to volunteers and others who supported the kākā release project.

3 responses to Behind-the-Scenes: Kākā return to the Abel Tasman coast


    Great photos and information. Thank you!

    Douglas A. Robinson, Jr. 02/11/2019 at 8:22 am

    Kia ora Dan, excellent summary of the operation to date! I’m looking forward to reading more about your tracking of the birds in the park…I do miss them!


    Good to hear the birds seem to be making a comeback. They look beautiful