Six baby tūturuatu Takes a Flight with Air New Zealand

Image Sourced: New Zealand Birds Online

Air New Zealand has given a helping wing to six young tūturuatu (Shore plover), relocating them from Cape Sanctuary in Hawke’s Bay to their new home on Motutapu Island.

Shore plovers are endemic to New Zealand and are one of the world’s rarest shorebirds. With a population of just 250, these rare native birds are only found in the Chatham Islands and two predator-free islands off the coast of Aotearoa.

In partnership with the Department of Conservation (DOC), Air New Zealand flew the tūturuatu chicks from Hawke’s Bay to Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) yesterday.

Two birds were bred at Cape Sanctuary, and the other four at The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch but were taken in by Cape Sanctuary before release day.

Since hatching in summer, the birds have been looked after with a collaborative effort from Cape Sanctuary staff, dedicated volunteers, and supported by the local hapu Ngati Mihiroa, who escorted them to their release site. The chicks will spend around three weeks acclimatising to their new surroundings at an aviary on Motutapu Island, and once they’ve acclimatised, they’ll be released into the wild to help bolster the Shore plover population on the island’s shoreline.

Air New Zealand’s Acting Head of Sustainability, Jenny Sullivan says the airline is proud to work so closely with DOC.

“To be able to help move our precious wildlife around Aotearoa to ensure they thrive for future generations is incredibly special to everyone here at Air New Zealand,” she says.

Over the past ten years, DOC and Air New Zealand have partnered in relocating over 4,000 native birds, including kiwi, kākāriki and takahe. The airline has also transported several conservation dogs vital in finding and keeping our wildlife safe from predators.

The Shore plover chicks were transported in the aircraft cabin, securely fastened in seats, and touched down in Auckland yesterday morning.
For flight attendant Annalise Michie the experience was one she’ll never forget.

Annalise Michie helps with relocation

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to be a part of. Every day in my job, I look forward to greeting our wonderful customers – but I got to greet some customers of a different, more feathery kind, and that’s really special. It’s not every day you get to say you played a small part in helping support the amazing work DOC does to protect the country’s unique wildlife.”

DOC Technical Advisor David Houston says a stoat incursion on Motutapu Island a couple of years ago all but wiped out the Shore plover population. Still, DOC and Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki have worked hard to eradicate the pests from the island.

“This transfer is the first step in restoring a breeding population of Shore plover to the island. A number of transfers over several years will be required to achieve this, and we’re grateful to Air New Zealand for the support they provide.”