Banding together: Kōkako chick joins growing flock

Banding together: Kōkako chick joins growing flock

They're just four small bands wrapped around the feet of a kōkako, but for conservationists it marks a step further in saving the species.   

A North Island kōkako chick was given its identity bands at Auckland's predator-controlled Ark in the Park in the Waitakere Ranges on Wednesday.

It was a significant moment for the at-risk, but recovering, species and also for a translocation programme - where birds are moved around the country - which is continuing to bear fruit.

"Kōkako were quite endangered in the past, we got to a stage where there were fewer than 400 pairs nationally. The North Island kōkako has actually improved quite dramatically in the last 20 years and that's mainly due to predator control and translocation," kōkako specialist Dave Bryden says.

The trapping work is particularly helpful for kōkako, which aren't great at flying. The birds prefer to squirrel their way up trees and glide through the canopy.

The young spend a long time in the nest, with the egg taking around 18 days to hatch and the chick spending just over a month there before fledging.

Banding together: Kōkako chick joins growing flock

The coloured bands mean each bird can be identified (Simon Wong / Newshub.)

"That's obviously a very vulnerable time for the birds. So by finding the nest we're able to put traps around each of the nests to make sure we control every last rat and ensure the survival of the chicks," Mr Bryden says.

To get the bird's vital stats, Mr Bryden used a ladder to get to the nest where the chick was brought down, weighed and measured before two bands were placed on each foot.

Banding together: Kōkako chick joins growing flock

Dave Bryden measures the chick while still in the bag (Simon Wong / Newshub.)

The newly banded chick is the first of the season of a known pair of birds. In a good year, the birds could produce up to three chicks in a brood.

The North Island kōkako number around 1400 pairs, but their South Island relatives are assumed to be extinct - the picture of their population is considered "data deficient". The Department of Conservation believes it could be possible a small number live in the remote South Island or Stewart Island.

A recent kōkako survey found 22 translocated birds, with their distinctive, bright blue wattles around their throats, and 15 were unbanded, meaning they were born in the area.

Banding together: Kōkako chick joins growing flock

The chick will add to the growing number of kōkako making their home in the Waitakere Ranges (Simon Wong / Newshub.)

Those figures are a reason to be optimistic.

"[It's] good news that the birds that have been born here are sticking around and forming pairs themselves," Mr Bryden says.

The kōkako is also a bird Kiwis seem to love, having convincingly won Bird of the Year 2016 in Forest and Bird's annual online poll.

Predator control at The Ark in the Park started in 2002, making up a large portion of the eco-restoration project.

While there aren't any physical barriers between the Ark and the surrounding forest, the continuous trapping in the area has created a relative safe haven for birds.

Ark in the Park is a collaborative project between Forest and Bird and Auckland Council and supported by local iwi Te Kawerau ā Maki.