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Bellbird sightings bring pleasant surprises

Less than two weeks after the release of 50 bellbirds into Hamilton Gardens, the sightings of unbanded bellbirds and behaviour of their released banded counterparts has been a welcome surprise for trackers.

Landcare Research’s John Innes said monitoring of the released bellbirds had resulted in official sightings of unbanded bellbirds.

These are perhaps the first recorded sightings in Hamilton city, suggesting there might be bellbirds already present which have been lured out of hiding to check out their newest neighbours.

”The discovery of unbanded bellbirds is fantastic news because they are the best possible anchors for encouraging our newly released birds to stay on.”

Hamilton city’s tall buildings and low lying land has made tracking the released birds more difficult than first thought and of the birds fitted with transmitters, five remain unaccounted for.

In some cases, the bellbirds have been chased away from acoustic anchoring sites by tui. This behaviour is a natural part of their traditional relationship where the tui will sing and the bellbird will instead ‘skulk’ around quietly looking for food. It also emphasises the importance of public assistance with tracking bird movement and numbers.

“So, it is really important, if you have food trees that tui feed on, to go out and physically look for the birds as they may well be there, seen and not heard”, Mr Innes said.

The release of bellbirds was part of New Zealand’s largest ever bird translocation project. Two hundred birds from Auckland’s Tawharanui Open Sanctuary and Tiritiri Matangi Island in the Hauraki Gulf were released at various locations on Sunday 16 and Monday 17 May. Fifty bellbirds were released into Hamilton Gardens.

Since the release, no bellbirds have been seen at the supplementary feeders placed at the gardens. They are reported to be feeding instead on exotic plants such as bottlebrush, eucalypts and banksias, all new foods to the released birds which hail from sanctuaries of native vegetation.

Mr Innes said that while it is very early days, it was encouraging to see the number of birds staying. Unlike, the birds released in Auckland which are very mobile, some of those released in Hamilton prefer to stay near the city and seem to be coping well.

“The bird found on Newells Road was heard making alarm calls at a cat. Given it would have never seen a cat before, the sound was an encouraging sign they are getting used to their new environments and adapting well.”

The Hamilton part of the project led by Landcare Research and the University of Waikato is partnered by Environment Waikato (as part of the Hamilton Halo project), Hamilton City Council, Nga Mana Toopu o Kirikiriroa, and the Department of Conservation. The programme aims to ultimately build up a breeding population in the city.

A map, created by programme partners, is proving a useful reference for tracking the locations of the birds (both released and already present) and monitoring the success of the release programme. The map will be updated as more information is gathered. http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=100865564067253946066.000486eabf93994fd4bd8(external link)

Programme partners have stressed that once the transmitters reach the end of their two week battery life, public sightings will be the only resource for monitoring the new bellbird population. Any reports of suspected sightings of bellbirds will be really appreciated.

Sightings of bellbirds can be reported through the Hamilton Halo website http://www.ew.govt.nz/Projects/Hamilton-Halo/Bellbirds-korimako/(external link)

or by calling EW biodiversity officer Ben Paris at 0800 800 401.

Members of the public can keep up to date with latest news and information about Hamilton Halo at www.facebook.com/hamiltonhalo(external link) or www.twitter.com/hamiltonhalo(external link).

Photo: This male bellbird was snapped feeding on persimmons on Cambridge Road. Thanks to Margaret Bryant for this image.

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