New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2010) 34(2): 237- 246

Habitat selection in reintroduced bird populations: a case study of Stewart Island robins and South Island saddlebacks on Ulva Island

Research Article
Pascale Michel 1,2,3*
Katharine J. M. Dickinson 1,3
Barbara I. P. Barratt 1,4
Ian G. Jamieson 1,5
  1. Ecology Research Group, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
  2. Biodiversity and Conservation Team, Landcare Research, Private Bag 1930, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
  3. Department of Botany, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand
  4. AgResearch Invermay, Private Bag 50 034, Mosgiel, New Zealand
  5. Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

An understanding of the mechanisms influencing habitat selection in reintroduced bird populations is fundamental for successful translocation programmes. Plant species composition, abundance, structure and food availability are likely to influence animal movement and habitat choice, but few studies have evaluated their combined effect on habitat selection of translocated birds. Stewart Island robins (Petroica australis rakiura) and South Island saddlebacks (Philesturnus carunculatus carunculatus) are two threatened New Zealand bird species that have been reintroduced to Ulva Island (Stewart Island). We hypothesised that their initial settlement patterns were driven by habitat quality. We tested this hypothesis by comparing habitat components between occupied and unoccupied habitats as the population grew after initial tanslocation. We also modelled probabilities of site selection as a function of the composition and structure of vegetation, availability of food (invertebrate composition) and nesting resources (cavity type). Founding pairs of both species first established territories in coastal habitat in the western part of the island, which is characterised by structurally complex broadleaved vegetation. Birds also selected sites with a greater abundance and diversity of food resources. Thus in the early stages of population establishment robins and saddlebacks appear to select high quality habitat that offers enhanced cover and foraging opportunities.