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Reintroduction Efforts Bring the Hihi Back to Mainland New Zealand

The Hihi, a bird species native to New Zealand, went extinct locally in the 1800s, but new reintroduction techniques are restoring their population.

The Hihi (Notiomystis cincta), a bird species once native to New Zealand, was driven locally extinct on mainland New Zealand in the 1880s. The leading threat this species faced came from the introduction of invasive rats, feral dogs, and cats. Now, after over 100 years, there is renewed hope for the native Hihi as a reintroduction project within Rotokare Scenic Reserve is restoring them to their rightful home once again.  

island-conservation-preventing-extinctions-the-hihi-rotokare-body
Rotokare Scenic Reserve in New Zealand. Credit: Kathrin & Stefan Marks

Researchers understand that when reintroducing a species in a given location, it will take them time to adjust. They will likely move around a fair amount before settling in a location that best suits them. In fact, wildlife managers tasked with monitoring the progress of the Hihi reintroduction suspected it would take females about four weeks to settle into a breeding territory. Oliver Metcalf, a doctoral student involved in the project commented:

We found the Hihi were initially pretty random in their movements around Rotokare, as you would expect from birds exploring a new home, but towards the end of the study they had settled down onto territories, and they preferred to have territories in areas close to water.”

A Hihi perched on a branch. Credit: Francesco Veronesi

Researchers are using novel methods in acoustic monitoring that allow them to track the ways the Hihi is moving across time and space without having to track each animal individually. Monitoring the reintroduction as it unfolds requires acoustic recording devices to monitor the species in the wild. These techniques are being used to get a sense of how the Hihi are settling in and what breeding locations they prefer. This new method of monitoring has the potential to be less intrusive to the species being monitored as well as more cost effective in the long term. Not only this, it makes monitoring much simpler. If an animal is particularly small or cryptic, tracking each animal individually can be an incredibly daunting task for researchers.

A male Hihi on Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand. Credit: Duncan Wright

The meticulous process of monitoring involved automated recording units (ARU’s) alongside statistical modeling methods to best understand the Hihi’s preferences. A grid of 31 ARUs was set up within Rotokare in 2017. They left the recording devices in the field for a total of 32 days after which time, they programmed an algorithm to detect the presence of Hihi calls within the recordings. This was all in an effort to better understand the native bird species and to determine its success in reestablishing itself.  John Ewen, a senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London commented:

The more we can learn what is perfect for Hihi, the more we hope to reduce the intensive management support we need to provide to allow reintroduced populations to flourish.”

So far, it looks like there is hope for Hihi populations and hopefully, for many other species in New Zealand as well. These novel monitoring techniques will also provide future benefit as a means of reintroducing other locally extinct species to their rightful home and serve as a testament to what vigilant restoration work and removal of invasive species is capable of accomplishing. 

Source: Mongabay
Featured photo: A male and female Hihi. Credit: John Gerrard Keulemans/Wikimedia Commons

About Stephanie Dittrich

Stephanie Dittrich is a current senior in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz and a transfer student from De Anza College. She is also currently pursuing a Certificate of Achievement in Geospatial Technologies and a second Associates Degree in Graphic Design from Foothill College. She has worked in multiple marketing and design focused roles at environmental nonprofits as well as the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz. She just finished spending 3 months in Costa Rica conducting field work where she did an independent research project and wrote a scientific paper about flight response time in the Morpho peleides butterfly. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys working on creative photography and design projects, often centered around wildlife photography, as well as more experimental and contemporary subject matter.

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