The very first stint back on the island is a new level of busy

Author: Emma GrayDate: 28th September 2023Header image: John Sibley

The very first stint back on the island is a new level of busy. I always think I’m ready with my island feet until I fall over for the first time and bring myself back down to earth. The hihi team is very small at the moment as we perform our pre-breeding season tasks including the survey, sugar feeding handover from the rangers, and a lot of cleaning. 

The pre-breeding survey entails 40 hours spent walking all the tracks and bush patches on the island, including spending time at the sugar feeders in both the morning and afternoon to see which adults are still alive and which juveniles from the previous season have made it through their first winter. Hihi juveniles have a 40% survival rate through the first winter, which we know due to our annual mark-recapture surveys. Mark recapture in the case of the hihi means banding all individuals with a unique band combination, most likely banded as chicks in the nest, and recording the individuals, their sex (in case we got it wrong) and their location/potential territory for the upcoming season.

The sugar water consumption is highest on Tiritiri Matangi Island during the winter (thank you to the island rangers who keep these hungry birds fed daily) unlike other hihi sites. This is due to the lack of natural food available over winter, while the fruits, flowers, and invertebrates that hihi feed on are numerous in spring/summer.

Once the 40 hours of the survey are complete, we’ve then got the task of cleaning out 200+ nestboxes so they are spick and span after being used as roosts over winter. Unless they are already occupied by other wildlife and the beginnings of the stick base for hihi nests.

Credit: Emma Gray

The hihi have been surprising us this year by laying eggs almost a whole month early. They are keeping us on our toes and making the most of the abundant natural food available. Currently, the hihi aren’t spending much time drinking the provided sugar water at the hihi feeders and instead determining social hierarchy and territories. The male hihi are displaying in their territories, while the females are either getting ready to lay eggs or still picking their partner for the season. 

The females usually build their nests slowly during late September and early October with the first eggs typically laid around mid-late October. Our first-year females often don’t attempt their first nests until December! Looks like we have an interesting season ahead.