At the Pestival event on Sunday, May 21, at Remuera Golf Club, were informed and inspired by three excellent guest speakers: Professor Margaret Stanley (on her team’s research on birds in urban environments); Jenny Holmes, acting project director for Te Korowai o Waiheke; and Tracey Parsons, Natural Environment Delivery Team at Auckland Council. Michelle Brinsden, Eastern Bays Songbird Coordinator, gave an update on EBSP’s work.
Regarding native birds’ failure to nest in urban Auckland because of predators, Prof. Margaret Stanley, who leads a research group in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland, said cats and rats are responsible for most of the deaths, followed by possums.
“New Zealand has the highest rate of cat ownership in the world - 44%,” she said. There are three to nine cats in every patch of bush. When a 500 sqm property in St Johns was monitored by camera over eight months, 18 different cats were spotted.
“Love your cat — keep it inside,” Prof. Stanley said. “We are behind Australia in this respect.” In the ACT [and in many local council areas in Australia], it’s mandatory to keep your cat on your property at all times [and to register and micro-chip them].
Professor Stanley said there are 17 native and endemic birds found in urban Auckland. However, their survival is threatened both by introduced predators and by the reduction in the trees they depend on for food and habitat.
Prof Stanley said it has been death by a thousand cuts in the urban environment. “Some suburbs like Grey Lynn have lost 35% of their trees in 10 years. Even when gardens are landscaped, they tend to have trees with mown lawns underneath rather than the leaf litter and ground cover that would feed birds.
“Don’t be a tidy Kiwi,” she urged. “Stop chopping and get planting. Plant native ground covers and small trees like cabbage trees, which provide fruit and nectar. “ Let the leaves and bark stay where they fall to encourage insects, piwakawaka, and other birds that feed on them.
Introduced pet birds were also a problem, Prof, Stanley said, especially parrots, which are sometimes lost or deliberately released because people want more colourful birds in the New Zealand bush. She said 23% of “lost” birds were lost as part of a group. To prevent these colourful birds from increasing to the point of out-competing native birds for food and habitat, the Auckland Regional Council pest management plan has banned the ring-necked parakeet, monk parakeets and rainbow lorikeet.
Professor Stanley advocated planting trees and encouraging leaf litter to feed birds naturally rather than installing bird feeders. By feeding birds bread and seeds you are encouraging sparrows and rock pigeons rather than native birds, which don’t eat seeds or bread. Prof. Stanley said that putting out sugar water for birds was also a problem. Water receptacles must be kept scrupulously clean, or they would spread bacteria, so don’t use open dishes that allow birds to perch on the edge. Instead of supplying sugar water in winter, Prof Stanley recommended planting native species that produce nectar, such as rewarewa (equivalent to the bottle brush) and kōwhai, Prof. Stanley said. [Harakeke/flax is another.]