Hihi Research Technician

Hihi Research Technician

Maungatautari Ecological Island

March 2011 through May 2011, October 2011 through March 2012 and September through November 2012

I was first introduced to hihi (Notiomystis cincta) by Kate Richardson while she was completing her PhD research at Maungatautari Ecological Island (Maungatautari). Kate’s research focused on comparing the natural dispersal of juvenile hihi to that of juveniles reintroduced to Maungatautari. Hihi is the sole representative of the Notiomystidae family and is a small (males c. 40 g, females c. 32 g) sexually-dimorphic cavity-nesting passerines, historically found in mature forests on New Zealand North Island. The effects of habitat loss and introduced mammalian predators caused this species’ distribution to shrink to Little Barrier Island by the 1880s. Hihi are now dependent on predator-free reserves because their nesting behavior makes them particularly vulnerable to predation by introduced mammalian predators.

Unlike the other predator-free reserves where hihi are found, Maungatautari consist of 3,363 ha of mature forest. Maungatautari’s forest is protected by 47 km of XcluderTM pest-proof allowing for the eradication of all introduced mammals, except for mice (Mus musculus), and low numbers of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and hares (Lepus europaeus). It is hoped that the mature forest protected at Maungatautari will become home to New Zealand’s second self-sustaining hihi population.

Hihi were reintroduced to Maungatautari through a series of three translocations beginning in 2009. I met Kate on Tiritiri Matangi Island, a small predator-free island off the coast of Auckland, during the fall of 2011. While on Tiritiri Matangi I helped to capture hihi using both mist nets and feeding stations modified into traps. Additionally, I help care for the birds while they were held in the aviaries and during transportation to Maungatautari for release. After the release, I helped Kate track hihi dispersal patterns for approximately four weeks. Each individual released had been mounted with a small lightweight radio transmitter that allowed us to monitor daily movement patterns.

During the summers of 2011/2012 and 2012/2013, I returned to Maungatautari to help Kate complete her fieldwork.  Each spring fieldwork began by searching for hihi territories using a system of pest monitoring lines, which allowed us access to all areas of Maungatautari. Once a territory was located, the pair were identified via their individual color band combination. Territories were monitored throughout the breeding season and once juveniles were observed intensive mist netting began. During the early stages of population establishment at Maungatautari, all individual hihi were captured and given a unique color band combination.  This was important because it allowed us to identify each individual observed and record individual movement patterns. In order to build a complete genealogy of the hihi at Maungatautari genetic samples were taken from each individual captured. The vast majority of all the fieldwork we conducted, including mist netting and banding, were done while working individually. The relationships I built while volunteering created opportunities for me to return to conduct both my own independent research and become a paid contractor.

During my time at Maungatautari, I was witness to countless moments of splendor, from awe-inspiring vistas to witnessing the seasons last hihi chick fledge from its nest. I was given many amazing opportunities to assist the other biodiversity rangers in their work. I was frequently asked to help with health checks for threatened and endangered species such as takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri), tuatara (Sphendon punctatus) and days old North Island brown kiwis (Apteryx mantelli).  I am so honored to have been given the opportunity to spend so much time under the magnificent forest canopy at Maungatautari.