Fiordland crested penguin or tawaki (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus)
For some quick facts about Fiordland crested penguins, or tawaki, have a look at these information sheets, produced by DOC in Haast.
Fiordland Crested Penguins: Project Background
Although the West Coast Penguin Trust set out to reverse the decline of blue penguins in 2006, it recognised the need to extend its conservation work to both penguins in the region as well as other threatened seabirds.
The Fiordland crested penguin, or tawaki, is in even greater need of our help, being just one level removed from the highest level of threat status in New Zealand at Nationally Endangered. Blue Penguins are a few levels further down, being At Risk – Declining. (To read more about this hierarchy click here.)
The Fiordland crested penguin is the only crested penguin to inhabit the main islands and coasts of New Zealand. The 2012 IUCN red list classifies Tawaki as Vulnerable.
The West Coast Penguin Trust has always been at pains to ensure that any investment in protecting birds is based on good science and its new project with tawaki is no exception. These handsome birds are not as well understood as blue penguins but are believed to be declining in number, as are seabirds around the globe generally.
Pre-Predator Control Project
The most common threat on land for any native bird is that presented by introduced predators. The Trust has set to establish the predators that may be contributing to a decline in the population so that appropriate targeted action can be taken. This follows a technical review of the conservation status of both the species and earlier management actions by DOC, which resulted in an agreed draft recovery strategy. A priority action of both old and new recovery strategies was and is to determine the effects of introduced predators on Fiordland crested penguin breeding success.
A funding bid for a three year pre-predator control project to the Department of Conservation under its new (2014) Community Conservation Partnership Fund was successful and trail cameras were purchased with sponsorship from local businessman, Geoff Robson of Greenstone Helicopters. Cameras are a low impact method of obtaining the information need and these were installed around nests in the coastal fringe of the Jackson Head peninsula and the Gorge River/Big Bay area, South Westland, in late August. As both batteries and memory cards required changing every week, they were installed in locations that would minimise any disruption to the birds, which have been known to abandon nests when disturbed.
If predators are found to be an issue then the WCPT can swing into action and implement appropriate predator control aimed at the correct species in South Westland and provide predator control strategies for use elsewhere in the species range.
If predators are found to not be an issue then resource that could otherwise have been wasted on predator control for tawaki can be used effectively elsewhere.
In the past, predator control for Tawaki and other species has been unnecessarily expensive and aimed at the wrong species. This work will ensure the appropriate species is targeted thus saving money in the longer term.
2014 Breeding Season
Initial analysis of the data from the cameras has shown that possums and rats are present but that, in the main, the penguins are not bothered by their presence. A few penguins are watchful but there has been no sign of predation.
There have been initial teething problems with the technology as the cameras and batteries are not effective during cold nights. This issue is being explored and may be due to exposure and/or camera settings, for example high resolution images.
More detailed analysis will be undertaken during the summer, as well as testing of the equipment. In the meantime, some of the cameras have been moved to areas where chicks at a pre-independence stage gather in crèches. (This crèching behaviour is seen in other penguins, but not in blue penguins.) It is hoped that more can be learned about this behaviour as well as whether there is a predation risk at this time. Research into other penguins suggests that this gathering together of chicks could be for one or more of three reasons, namely for greater protection against predators, cold or aggressive adults.
This page will be updated as the project progresses.
Foraging Ecology Project
Penguin experts, Thomas Mattern and Ursula Ellenberg, of Otago University also initiated a new tawaki project during the 2014 breeding season. The project’s main aim is to examine the
foraging strategies of tawaki in the varying different marine habitats the species inhabits.
Their project is also supported by Greenstone Helicopters, who are keen to support the understanding and protection of this iconic mainland penguin.
GPS loggers were used to track a number of birds at sea and those birds appeared to handle the addition of the gadgets very well. The data showed that, while the chicks remained in the nests, the adults travelled only short distances to feed and return, however when the chicks emerged to gather with other pre-independent chicks in a crèche, the adults would go off on epic foraging adventures before returning with food for the chicks.
More detailed analysis of both camera and GPS data will be undertaken over the coming months and more information or links will be added as they become available but in the meantime, they report that the breeding season of 2014 appears to be a very successful one for tawaki.
The project extended to a second site at Harrison Cove in Milford Sound and discovered stark contrasts in foraging behaviour and breeding success this year. The project team found that tawaki were having to forage up to 100km offshore and up to 100m deep from the Jackson Head colony, probably due to El Nino effects on marine temperatures and therefore location of food sources. Sadly as a result, some chicks starved to death. IN Milford Sound however, foraging was most often within 2km of the colony and diving was to 60m. In all crested penguins, a second smaller chick generally does not survive but here, several instances of two chicks surviving was recorded. The report can be found here: Tawaki Project, Field Report 2015
The Trust was fortunate to have Thomas and Ursula assisting with the pre-predator control project and thanks them for bringing their penguin passion and expertise to both projects.
Other Tawaki News and Information
October 2016, new Te Papa research project on the birdlife of Taumaka (Open Bay Island), including tawaki – read the blog here
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