New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2000) 24(2): 161- 168

Mortality of North Island tomtits (Petroica macrocephala toitoi) caused by aerial 1080 possum control operations, 1997- 98, Pureora Forest Park

Research Article
R. G. Powlesland 1
J. W. Knegtmans 1,2
A. Styche 1,3
  1. Science and Research Unit, Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 10-420, Wellington, New Zealand
  2. Present address: 1 Trent Street, Taradale, Napier, New Zealand
  3. Present address: 5 Newcombe Crescent, Karori, Wellington, New Zealand

Aerial poisoning operations with carrot or cereal baits are used to control brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) populations in New Zealand forests for ecosystem conservation and to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis to cattle and deer herds on adjacent farmland. Although various measures have been implemented to reduce the incidence of bird kills, dead birds continue to be found after poison operations. Colour-banded North Island tomtits (Petroica macrocephala toitoi) were monitored in treatment and non-treatment areas in Pureora Forest Park to determine the costs and benefits of aerial 1080 possum poisoning operations to tomtit populations. The August 1997 operation (carrot baits with very little chaff, 0.08 % w/w 1080, 10 kg ha(-1)), resulted in 11 (79%) of 14 tomtits disappearing, but none of nine from the non-treatment area. Whether the birds died of primary or secondary poisoning is unknown. No tomtits in either treatment or non-treatment areas disappeared following the August 1998 operation (cereal baits, 0.08% w/w 1080, 5 kg ha(-1)). The carrot bait operation resulted in almost all possums and rodents being killed, but a few possums and rodents survived the cereal bait operation, apparently because of a gap in bait distribution. During the 1997/98 nesting season, tomtit pairs in the 1997 treatment area had high nesting success (80% of nests fledged chicks, mean of four fledglings per nest). Even so, by the following spring it seemed that the population had not recovered to its pre-poison level. Further research on this topic is warranted, the priority being to monitor tomtit mortality during more aerial 1080-cereal bait operations in order to assess the likely risks of using those baits.