September 30, 2013 at 11:38 pm #530MikeKeymaster
By ANNE BESTON, environment reporter
All the yellow-eyed penguin chicks from a Stewart Island nesting area
have almost certainly died, leading to fears the birds will disappear
from the island.
Thirty-one of the 42 chicks in nests on the northern tip of the
island are thought to have starved on land.
The rest, which reached seagoing age, were underweight and unlikely
to have survived.
The decline in the island’s yellow-eyed penguin population was first
noticed two years ago. Some nesting sites no longer have any birds.
The Department of Conservation and the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust made
the latest discovery during the first stage of a five-year survey of
around 30 to 40 nests along the northern coast.
The Trust and DoC now plan more intense monitoring to find out why
the chicks are dying.
Stewart Island-based Department of Conservation spokesman Brent
Beaven said it was impossible to know if the chick mortality rate at
other sites was the same.
“We have no idea what’s happening with them here, it’s really been a
pathetic result,” he said.
Stewart Island was one of three strongholds for the birds, and it was
important none disappeared, he said.
About 650 pairs are on the south-east coast of the South Island, and
about 1000 pairs are on the sub-Antarctic islands.
Penguin numbers are not yet at a critical level, but they have varied
and a conservation campaign was started after population lows in the
Stewart Island population estimates have been unreliable, but the
island is thought to have about 100 pairs. Another 60 to 70 pairs are
on nearby islands.
Yellow-eyed penguins are the least social of any penguin species and
are monogamous. They return to the same nesting sites each year.
Feral cats were at first blamed for the chick deaths, Mr Bevan said.
But it became clear that adult birds were not catching the chicks’
“Chicks need these particularly small fish, but there was some
evidence the adults were bringing back bigger fish the chicks
“Just before chicks go to sea their weight stabilises. That’s when we
weighed them and they were very light.”
Yellow-eyed penguins, or hoiho, regurgitate around seven different
fish species for chicks including sprat and red cod.
Herald Feature: Conservation and Environment
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