New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2004) 28(1): 73- 81

Responses of kukupa (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) and other birds to mammal pest control at Motatau, Northland

Research Article
John Innes 1
Graham Nugent 2
Kevin Prime 3
Eric B. Spurr 2
  1. Landcare Research, Private Bag 3127, Hamilton, New Zealand
  2. Landcare Research, P.O. Box 69, Lincoln 8152, New Zealand
  3. Prime Holdings Ltd., Motatau, R.D. 1, Kawakawa, Northland, New Zealand

The kukupa or New Zealand pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) is gradually declining on the New Zealand mainland, due mostly to predation by introduced pest mammals including ship rats (Rattus rattus) and brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). We report on a co-operative project between Maori landowners, the Department of Conservation, and Manaaki Whenua–Landcare Research researchers to restore a Northland kukupa population and to examine kukupa nesting success in relation to pest abundance. Ship rats and possums were targeted by trapping and poisoning throughout Motatau Forest (350 ha) from 1997 to 1999; only possums were targeted in 2000. All 13 kukupa nests located before pest control started in late 1997 failed at the egg stage, but all seven nests located in 1998–99 successfully fledged young when trapping and tracking indices of possums and ship rats were less than 4%. After pest control, counts of kukupa and some other bird species increased at Motatau compared with counts in a nearby non-treatment block, suggesting numbers of adult kukupa can be increased in small forest areas by intensive pest control. This increase is due at least partly to increased nest success. Evidence from time-lapse video cameras, sign remaining at nests, and nest success rates under different pest control regimes suggest both ship rats and possums are important predators at kukupa nests.