It’s the end of the grey-faced petrel breeding season in New Zealand and hugely exciting to see the seabird chicks emerging from their underground burrows for the first time literally stretching their wings. It’s also equal parts horrendous to see neighbourhood cats walking at leisure through the sensitive breeding grounds of these birds recovering from centuries of hunting. As readers of my blog know I’m a big fan of grey-faced petrels, and every year when they return we begin our annual monitoring once again. As a winter-breeding species it means lots of cold dark work for us studying the birds, but their chicks get to fledge at the height of summer which must be a treat for them. I’ve been particularly excited over the last few years to see grey-faced petrel colony numbers growing on the west coast mainland of New Zealand known as the Waitakere Ranges, next to New Zealand’s largest city Auckland. The chicks raised on the west coast appear to have much better access to marine resources, but are under constant threat from introduced predators.The Waitakere Ranges coastal holiday community of Piha, west of Auckland City, New Zealand (Photo by James Russell)
There are a number of small human communities scattered along the west coast and its beautiful remote beaches, and some of these community members exert kaitiakitanga (Maori for guardianship) over their resident feathered neighbours. One community volunteer recently took this footage over the course of 24 hours. The following day the chick wandered over the bank and was never seen again – we hope to a new life at sea before it returns five years later to help the colony continue to grow, but potentially just turning in to gourmet pet cat food. Cats need to be managed in sensitive wildlife areas. I’m always surprised in New Zealand how cat owners allow their pets to roam freely – no such licence exists for dogs to simply wander the streets at leisure. As conservation and housing sites come in to conflict more often with Auckland’s rapidly growing population, all of us will have to exercise responsible kaitiakitanga of our taonga (Maori for treasures), as well as our pets, else conflict will inevitably rise.