Sneaky falcons hide latest brood from paparazzi

January 25, 2013

Falcon pair

Sneaky. Zealandia’s resident falcon pair. Female (left) and male (right). Photo by Steve Attwood.

Residents of the Karori/Brooklyn/Kelburn area will be hearing a lot more from our New Zealand falcon (kārearea) lately. If you hear a piercing, rapid kek-kek-kek call look up and you might see these threatened raptors training their young how to hunt.

Recently, Zealandia’s resident kārearea pair successfully reared three chicks to fledge before anyone had noticed the nest.

“Last season they chose a very public spot, which was great for photographers – who came from far and wide to see them – but probably stressful for the birds as they spent time defending the area. This time they chose a spot away from view and it was only a few days before the chicks fledged that one of our staff found the nest. There are two males and one female – now practising their techniques around the Suspension Bridge area, about half an hour’s walk in to the valley,” said Conservation Manager Raewyn Empson.

Facilities Officer Ron Goudswaard found the nest on New Year’s Eve.

“When I first saw the chicks they were almost fully feathered and just starting to fly so we can estimate they hatched about 30 days before. The falcon pair had been keeping a low profile – we knew they had successfully bred in the past, even breaking records last season with two successful nests in the same season, but we don’t actively monitor them. They’re very vulnerable to predators at that early stage so they do well in here with no cats or stoats to prey on them.”

The three juveniles will head out to find their own territory around two months after fledging; the parents don’t allow them to stay nearby, especially if they begin to re-nest.

“One of last season’s chicks here was banded by Wingspan in September 2011 and eight months later was reported to be in the Silverstream area, though we don’t know if it stayed there,” said Empson.

Empson isn’t worried about the predatory nature of the kārearea.

“They form part of a healthy ecosystem. Ours appear to range very widely from Brooklyn to Karori and the Botanic Garden. From examinations of bird remains the majority are exotic birds such as goldfinches and sparrows, though they are certainly known to take a wide range of prey. They’re effective around vineyards for keeping pest bird numbers down.”

The kārearea has a conservation status of Nationally Vulnerable – the same category as North Island kākā – and ranked as more endangered than even the little spotted kiwi.

Kārearea found their own way to Zealandia and became the first pair confirmed to breed in Wellington since the 1970s.

You can listen to the call of Zealandia’s resident kārearea, and see the differences between falcon and harrier at our species web page.