A tech upgrade

Author: Stacey BalichThis text has been collated using the Hihi Conservation 2022 - Annual ReportDate: 16/07/23

The Hihi Conservation 2022 Annual Report shares that for nearly the past three decades it has been a rite of passage for every hihi hatched in a nest box to receive a set of colour bands when they turn 21 days old. On one leg, they have two colours; on the other, they have one colour and one metal band. This allows researchers to individually identify the birds which supports monitoring, management and research. Dr John Ewan shares in his report that on Tiritiri Matangi all female hihi nest in nest boxes, so every bird in the population can be banded before fledging. This means family relationships are known for every hihi on the island.

Observing and locating individual birds requires enormous manpower and data can sometimes be limited by the size of the field team and environmental conditions. This can sometimes result in incomplete band reading or misidentification. In 2015, the Hihi Recovery Group began exploring how to modernise hihi monitoring. They selected a technology called Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).

RFID involves attaching a tiny computer chip storing a unique identification number to an animal. Special RFID ‘readers’ are then placed in key locations throughout the environment to ‘read’ these numbers when tagged animals come in close proximity. Dr John Ewan explains it as the same technology behind tap-and-go credit card payments. The chips are only a few millimetres long so they can be attached unobtrusively even to small birds like hihi with no effect on their wellbeing or behaviour.

Left: A male hihi with a blue RFID chipPhoto credit: Jonathan MowerRight: Banding a hihi fledglingPhoto credit: Mhairi McCready

In 2020 the Hihi Recovery Group and the Department of Conservation’s Electronics Team finalised a design. The custom, injection-moulded colour bands fit hihi perfectly and hold a built-in RFID chip. They are now fully rolled out on Tiritiri Matangi, where each nestling now receives two colour bands on one leg and one long RFID colour band on the other leg. All six of the supplementary feeding stations are equipped with RFID readers. The adult hihi population will receive a band upgrade next time they are caught for normal population monitoring.

Dr John Ewan shares that direct observation will always play a central role in hihi monitoring and that RFID technology will provide a major boost to data collection.

Hihi Conservation Report 2022 - Annual Report by Dr John Ewen

Hihi Conservation Website

How hihi are the symbol of challenge and hope for conservation