Save our Seabirds

Over 86 types of sea-birds breed in New Zealand giving us the title of seabird capital of the world.

Once New Zealand was filled with bustling colonies of gannets, penguins, shags, petrels, albatrosses, terns and skua however now these are just vestiges of their original size and many are confined to offshore islands. 

Rewind 800 years and you would have found a country so riddled with sea-bird-burrows it would have been hard to walk for fear of falling into a petrel’s  nest . 

The decline of our sea-bird populations is due to a trio of factors  - predation of chicks and eggs, habitat loss and bycatch in fisheries. 

Albatrosses and petrels spend most of their time at sea , only coming to land to breed.  

New Zealand is an ideal breeding site for seabirds that range in temperate latitudes because of our highly productive seas which provide plentiful food for hungry chicks. 

Unfortunately, this nursery stage makes these seabirds particularly vulnerable. One parent looks after the chick while the other will head out to sea to find food for the chick.

Predation on the nest, or capture in fisheries has the ability to devastate populations. 

Loss of adult breeding birds has the greatest impact as albatrosses and petrels because they are long-lived, slow breeders. The chick will die on the nest and the surviving parent may take years to find a new partner and resume breeding.  

As the ‘seabird capital of the world’ we believe that we should lead the world in sea-bird conservation – and indeed, NZ has led the world in pest eradication, boosting seabird numbers significantly.   

Now that nearly all of our small offshore islands are free of pests, DOC is looking at clearing large, populated islands such as Stewart Island which could become a much needed sanctuary for rare seabirds, such as our yellow-eyed penguin and mottled petrels. 

Unfortunately, though, many of our seabirds are still dying at sea. Forest & Bird is working hard to improve fishing practises to prevent unnecessary seabird deaths. 

Additionally, we’re working to support existing populations of seabirds across New Zealand’s mainland and the Chatham Islands through fenced sanctuaries & research projects. Below are some of the projects that we’re involved in - 


Hutton's shearwater

(Endemic, At Risk, Declining)

Our Kaikoura branch has been actively involved with the Hutton’s Shearwater Charitable Trust in creating a third breeding site for our nationally endangered Hutton’s shearwaters. Recently a 2.1 hectare predator proof fence has been erected around a reserve which has a carrying capacity of 10,000 birds. So far, 500 birds have been transferred to the site and a handful of these birds have started breeding.More

Fairy prion

(Native, At Risk, Relict)

Our Fairy Prion has its last mainland breeding colony on a tiny ledge half way down a cliff on Dunedin's coastline. Rats, stoats, feral cats and dogs and coastal development have driven them from their once widespread mainland colonies. In Dunedin we are bringing them up the cliff and giving them a safe space to expand their colony by building a predator exclusion fence around this breeding site and fitting the site with 200 nesting boxes.

To see a video on this extraordinary fence, see here 



Blue penguins

(Native, At Risk, Declining)

These pint-sized penguins  live along some of our most populated coastlines and face a trio of threats – predation by dogs & stoats, car-strike and habitat loss. To help these birds thrive we run a restoration & public awareness project in the Wellington region . Nest boxes, pest control, planting projects and increasing public awareness around the dual threats of dogs & cars helps to give these little battlers a fighting chance. More

Fairy tern

(Endemic, Threatened, Nationally Critical)

We’re working to save our critically endangered fairy tern by creating a new breeding site in the Kaipara Harbour. This bird - which has just 8 breeding pairs - may become extinct in the next quarter century if immediate action is not taken. At present, it has four breeding sites that sit near large coastal developments. We’ve studied the bird’s breeding grounds and we hope to establish a people-free, weed-free, predator-controlled site that will allow these birds to nest in peace.. More



New Zealand is the breeding ground for more than half of the world’s 22 albatross species. Ten of these species, including the royal albatrosses, are at risk from commercial fishing operations in New Zealand. Every year thousands of albatrosses and petrels die from fishing operations within New Zealand’s 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. Many more die in other fisheries when they migrate after breeding.  We’re working with Ministry of Primary Industries, Department of Conservation, industry groups and other NGO’s to achieve better fishing practises. More

Chatham Island Albatross

Scientists transfered several threatened Chatham Island albatross chicks from an offshore rock-stack to a new colony on the mainland in 2014. This transfer was made possible with the help of a Birdlife International grant. This is the very first time anyone has tried relocating albatross in New Zealand and it is one of the first times this has been done in the entire world! This species is listed as vulnerable on IUCN's Red List. 

For more information on the transfer, see here


Pitt Island Shag

(Endemic, Threatened, Nationally Endangered) 

Numbers of our nationally endangered Pitt Island Shag have declined in recent years, so Forest & Bird has supported a study to investigate predation and fishing risks. Preliminary evidence suggests that although the shag’s foraging area overlaps with commercial fishing operations for rock lobster, one of the main threats appears to be predation. Nesting shags were heavily predated by possums and cats in the area. A full breeding study is urgently needed and support for predation control around nesting areas. 

NZ Storm Petrel 

(Endemic, Data Deficient)

This tiny sparrow-sized bird was thought to be extinct for 150 years, until it was re-discovered in 2005 living just 100kms from New Zealand’s largest city. In 2013, Forest & Bird helped to fund  successful surveys to discover    the breeding site of these enigmatic little birds on Little Barrier Island. They have been found breeding in tiny burrows on the forest floor under kauri trees. Further work is needed to determine population size and basic breeding biology.    

What is Forest & Bird doing?

  • Creating a map of Marine Important Bird Areas which will guide our advocacy work to protect seabirds at seas.
  • Helping to develop the Hauraki Gulf Marine Spatial Plan to reduce threats to our threatened birds, such as our Black Petrel.
  • Working to implement the National Plan of Action for Seabirds by working with Ministry of Primary Industries to improve fishing practises to protect seabirds.