Helping hand as feisty pāteke relocated to Fiordland

9:51 pm on 4 March 2021

Dozens of rare ducks took to the sky today, but not under their own wing power.

The 60 pāteke, or brown teal ducks, were flown to Queenstown from Christchuch so they could start a new life in Fiordland's remote Arthur Valley in the hopes of establishing a self-sustaining population in the area.

It is hoped the valley will one day home 500 pāteke.

Department of Conservation (DOC) senior ranger Max Smart said the small but feisty ducks were once the most common waterfowl in New Zealand but were now the rarest, alongside whio.

"To turn this around, DOC works with a national captive rearing programme which draws on support from 14 captive breeders around the country to boost their numbers back to sustainable levels," he said.

"Thanks to consistent and landscape-scale predator control, including an extensive trapping network and targeted use of 1080, we're able to keep predator numbers in check which gives pāteke - and many other native species - the chance to flourish."

The Arthur Valley was one of two sites in the South Island where such work could currently be attempted.

Funding from Air New Zealand supported efforts with predator traps maintained across 4500 hectares in the Arthur Valley and radio transmitters used to track the pāteke.

As part of their partnership with DOC, the airline also provided flights for the birds from Christchurch to Queenstown.

Air New Zealand head of sustainability Meagan Schloeffel said the airline was happy to help.

"It's a real privilege to support DOC to do this incredibly important work to help our native bird numbers and we're delighted to take the pāteke to their new home.

"Our long-standing partnership with DOC has seen us transport 1409 pāteke over the last 10 years. It's a special programme to be part of."

The Arthur Valley presented challenges though with flood events hampering numbers, Smart said.

"Generally, survivorship here is really good, however, the valley can be flood-prone at times which means younger birds sometimes learn the hard way about where they can and can't nest.

"Overall, reintroductions across the country are going well and the species is now classified as recovering."

The work was also supported by Ngāi Tahu through the involvement of Ōraka Aparima rūnaka.

Before pāteke could be released in the wild, conditioning took place at Peacock Springs in Christchurch.