“The Story of New Zealand’s Unique Birds – from Adze Bill to Yellow eyed Penguin” by Alan Froggatt. Published by White Cloud Books, Upstart Press. Reviewed by Tony Orman
New Zealand has and has had an extraordinary range of plants and animals, some extinct before the second wave of migrants in the 19th century Europeans and some that became endangered soon after the European colonisation.
New Zealand has embarked on solutions to the demise of bird life which is commendable in purpose, although not always with the best direction. Dealing to predators by mass killings is not necessarily the best way to increase bird life. Often 1080 poison is used. 1080 is an indiscriminate killer and first developed as an insecticide, it therefore kills invertebrates – the food of insectivorous birds and others like kiwi and kea. It also kills birds that take the poisoned baits and animals, in total anything that ingests the toxin. Furthermore a poisoned carcass retains the poison so any creature scavenging also gets poisoned – termed “secondary poisoning”.
Furthermore research has shown (Wendy Ruscoe, 2007) that after 1080 has killed perhaps 80%-85% of rats, the surviving rats with abundant food, hit back with their prodigious breeding ability and at 18 months have increased to pre-poison levels and 18 months further on, have increased to at least three times original numbers. Sadly the disruption to the food chain doesn’t end there. Stoats whose main prey are rats, undergo a similar mushrooming in numbers. The end result of the 1080 drop is far more rats and far more stoats. With the artificially escalated numbers, in about four years after the initial drop, another 1080 drop is required.
The picture on page 14, of a possum eating a chick was exposed several years ago, by a Nelson Conservationist, as allegedly “photo-shopped.”
But there is much to commend in this book. The cover is very striking and just in the first few pages inside there’s a great double spread of a Haast Eagle attacking a pair of moa.
Information of birds, that became extinct between the Polynesian and European migrants, has been lacking in literature but this book goes a long way and is valuable in filling that gap with excellent photos and concise chapters. There’s a very worthwhile list ranging from moa to the moa’s predator Haast Eagle to the Laughing Owl, the predatory Adze Bill, Eyle’s Harrier, the North island Goose several others. With the current fad of making “New Zealand Predator Free” by 2050, it’s timely that it is pointed out that predators existed in New Zealand’s avian ecosystems before Europeans arrived.
In short, predators have always been here. Predator-prey relationships evolve and settle into equilibrium.
Other birds still existing today are very adequately covered.