Translocation of Miromiro to Tiritiri Matangi April 2004

Author:Barbara Hughes

Date:January 2023

Photo credit: Barbara Hughes

Over two days in early April 2004, four catching teams in the Hunua Ranges Auckland Council Regional Park area caught 32 miromiro/North Island tomtits, Petroica macrocephala toitoi, for transfer to Tiritiri Matangi. All birds were weighed, banded, individually boxed, and then transported by car to the Helitranz base at Albany from which they were flown by helicopter out to the motu. This was the culmination of over a year of study in the field and many hours habituating the birds with meal worms by a team of Tiritiri Matangi Supporter helpers, and a Massey University international student; co-ordinated by myself. The translocation was overseen by DOC manager Richard Griffiths. The scientific support, advice and capture specialists were Dr Tim Lovegrove (ARC Heritage Department scientist) and Dr Kevin Parker (Reintroduction Biologist). Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi for the study and translocation costings had the financial benefit of Barbara being on a fully funded Royal Society Teacher Fellowship year to carry out the programme.

Follow-up monitoring was carried out after the translocation and occasional authentic sightings of banded birds continued up to March 2006. There was no evidence of breeding pairs and the possibility of a population of miromiro establishing on the motu didn’t occur.

One bird known to the miromiro team as Mr RG was found back in his Hunua territory over 56 km away nine weeks after the translocation. This caused much fuss with the media in that his story made the front page of The NZ Herald, interviews with BBC and Radio NZ, a scientific paper written, 18 in total magazine/newspaper articles and an illustrated 43 page book on Mr RG’s flight home. This is a unique Tiritiri Matangi story and a translocation that’s part of the list of translocations to the motu.

The flight back to the original habitat proved beyond doubt that miromiro are able to fly some distances and across long stretches of water.

The answer to the question as to why a population of miromiro did not establish may be due to the competition from a bird of the same Petroica genus; toutouwai, the North Island robin, Petroica australis, that are well established on Tiritiri Matangi plus other resident competing birds. Barbara observed a strong reaction from a robin to a miromiro where the robin won that interaction, along with a fantail chasing a translocated miromiro round in a circle on the ground.

The present science thinking is that tomtits are difficult to translocate due to being good dispersers. No other strategy would be more successful. The best strategy now will be to let the island mature for miromiro to arrive by themselves if the motu is to their liking as they have done in many other places. Pays to keep in mind that not everything can be translocated and that natural colonisation is always preferable.

Both male and female vagrant miromiro are observed periodically on Tiritiri Matangi. One day they may establish when the habitat is more mature. Keep a look out for these delightful birds. Māori speak of an observant person as “ he karu miromiro” – “having a tomtit eye” due to miromiro being able to pick up a small item of food from 10m distance. Another Maori name for them is “torotoro” (scout) due to their habit of appearing on a branch or perching from a trunk from nowhere in the forest then vanishing.