Thousands of birds wrecked

                   Healthy broad-billed prions on Kundy Island, off Stewart Island, March 2011. Photo: Colin Miskelly. Copyright Te Papa.

It is now clear that the storm which brought us the recent tornado also wreaked havoc on flocks of prions1, returning from their feeding grounds to islands in the Marlborough Sounds and Cook straight. Many bodies now lie strewn over a wide area of the lower west coast of the North Island, others as far as Dargaville and Okarito around 900 km apart.

In the Kapiti area alone it is likely that tens of thousands of birds have lost their lives. Exhausted by constantly battling the winds, many simply fell into the sea, died and were washed ashore. Those making it ashore alive fared a little better, around 2000 birds being rescued up and down the coast by people using boxes, bags or even just carrying them inside their coats. But the vast majpority lie scatted from the beaches to the hills. On the Kapiti Coast alone volunteers from the OSNZ 2 have so far counted thousands in their beach survey.

However, many of the 2000 or so rescued by local people, have been brought back to health by organisations such as Waikanae and Wellington SPCA ,Wellington Zoo Hospital, HUHA and bird shelters in the Capital. Three hundred of these were released by volunteers off kapiti Island on July 9th.

In the winter of 1961 this number rose to 1400 and in 1984 to 1200.There is no doubt however, that the latest wreck is by far the worst in recent times. Colin Miskelly of Te papa says in his blog” It will be difficult to estimate the full extent of the 2011 wreck, but it is likely to be up to 250 times larger than either the 1961 or 1974 events”.  This could equate to around 25% of the erstimated New Zealand population.

1 91% of these were the Broad Billed Prions
2 Ornithological Society of New Zealand
3 Barrie Heather and Hugh Robertson: The field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2005   Edition.