New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2022) 46(2): 3481

Movements and habitat connectivity of New Zealand forest birds: a review of available data

Review Article
John Innes 1*
Colin M. Miskelly 2
Doug P. Armstrong 3
Neil Fitzgerald 1
Kevin A. Parker 4
Zoe L. Stone 3
  1. Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, Private Bag 3127, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
  2. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, PO Box 467, Wellington 6140
  3. Wildlife Ecology Group, Massey University, Private Bag 11222, Palmerston North, New Zealand
  4. Parker Conservation, PO Box 130, Warkworth 0941
*  Corresponding author

New Zealand’s original forested landscape has been greatly fragmented since human arrival, limiting connectivity and habitat quality for forest-dependent fauna. We review the limited available information about forest bird movement behaviour, especially whole-year sociality and movement, natal dispersal, and pasture- and water-gap crossing. Most small insectivores (17 species) and North Island kōkako are territorial year-round, but frugivore-nectivores (three species), raptors (two species), and volant parrots (four species) can be highly mobile, presumably to find scattered food. Natal dispersal is the main behaviour by which birds find new habitats and mates, but natal dispersal distances are unknown for half the species we review. There is limited information about species’ ability to cross gaps between forests, and more is known about movement over water than pasture. We classify four species (North Island kōkako, pōpokotea, South Island tīeke, and North Island brown kiwi) as strongly gap limited, defined as currently unknown to cross water or pasture gaps larger than 500 m. A further eight species (mohua, tītitipounamu, pīpipi, weka, North Island tīeke, kakaruai, toutouwai, and miromiro) are moderately gap-limited, with maximum observed gap-crossing distances of less than 5 km. Pending new data, these twelve species have most need of corridors or translocations to enable them to establish in new, safe, ecosanctuary sites. Habitat connectivity can be increased by strategic planting, but this also risks decreasing populations if birds emigrate from safe to unsafe sites. Many managed ecosanctuaries are too small to accommodate natal dispersal distances expected in continuous forest, so pest control is required at larger scale in the long term to restore natural movement patterns.