Predicting conflict with New Zealand native birds in our cities

Pukeko, kaka and gulls are the native bird species most likely to cause problems in New Zealand’s cities in the future, according to new research.

A kaka in Wellinton City Botanic Gardens where they are responsible for extensive damage to the tree collection, especially conifers. Image credit: Kerry Charles - M.Sc. research student.

A kaka in Wellinton City Botanic Gardens. Kaka are responsible for extensive damage to the tree collection, especially conifers. Image credit: Kerry Charles – M.Sc. research student.

A study from Victoria University of Wellington’s Centre for Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology by researchers Dr Wayne Linklater and Master of Science graduate Kerry Charles, compared native birds in cities all over the world and found that species that consume a wide variety of food types were the most likely to cause conflict in urban areas.

Birds with broad diets cause greater problems

“A broad diet allows the birds to take advantage of the wide variety of novel foods in the urban environment, leading to population growth,” says Dr Linklater.

“The large and dense populations that result may amplify a range of problems, such as noise and damage from fouling or nesting, that exceed residents’ tolerance levels and result in conflict.

“Traditionally native birds haven’t been a problem in New Zealand cities because most of them live in our forests or by the sea but, ironically, the success of nature restoration projects in urban areas may well raise the chances of conflict as more birds re-colonise our cities.”

A model for predicting problem birds

The researchers developed a model in their study, recently published in the scientific journal Wildlife Research, which estimates the likelihood of various native bird species causing problems. The pukeko (Porphyrio porphyria), red-billed gull, (Larus scopulinus), and kaka (Nestor meridionalis) were identified as the three species most likely to generate conflict.

Dr Linklater says the kaka is already causing problems in Wellington City by damaging property, particularly trees. Their behaviour has led to the death of branches and sometimes whole trees damaged by the birds and safety concerns from branch weakeness.

“Our study suggests that there may be further problems caused by birds in New Zealand cities as native bird colonise them and the populations of birds with broad diets grow,” he says.

An ounce of prevention…

“The restoration of wildlife conservation where people live, work and play brings benefits to our community and quality of our environment for the future. A measure of our success is that some of those wildlife will become so common that they cause problems for people.”

“Our research offers a tool for problem management, which allows species that may be more likely to cause problems to be identified, monitored and any emerging problems addressed before they worsen.”

Prepared with the assistance of Tania Guenter, Communications Adviser, Victoria University of Wellington.

Post-script – This press release of 1st December, 2013, was picked up by:

Radio New Zealand news bulletin

Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint program in which Kerry Charles was interviewed,

Newstalk ZB radio stations,

The New Zealand Herald newspaper,

The Dominion Post newspaper,

Fairfax NZ News on-line,

…amongst others.

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