Six baby plover hitch a lift

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Annalise Michie helps with relocation of six Shore plover bound for Motutapu Island. Photo supplied

Air New Zealand has given a helping wing to six young tuturuatu (Shore plover), relocating them from Cape Sanctuary in Hawke’s Bay to their new home on Motutapu Island.

Shore plovers are endemic to New Zealand and are one of the world’s rarest shorebirds.

With a population of just 250, these rare native birds are only found in the Chatham Islands and two predator-free islands off the coast of New Zealand.

In partnership with the Department of Conservation (DoC), Air New Zealand flew the tuturuatu chicks from Hawke’s Bay to Auckland on Monday.

Two of the birds were bred at Cape Sanctuary and the other four at The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust in Christchurch, but were taken in by Cape Sanctuary prior to release day.

Since hatching in summer, the birds have been looked after with a collaborative effort from Cape Sanctuary staff, dedicated volunteers and supported by the local hapu Ngati Mihiroa, who escorted them to their release site.

The chicks will spend around three weeks acclimatising to their new surroundings at an aviary on Motutapu Island and once they’ve acclimatised, they’ll be released into the wild to help bolster the Shore plover population on the island’s shoreline.

Over the past 10 years, DoC and Air New Zealand have partnered in relocating more than 4000 native birds including kiwi, kakariki and takahe.

The airline has also transported a number of conservation dogs vital in finding and keeping wildlife safe from predators.

The Shore plover chicks were transported in the aircraft cabin, securely fastened in seats.

For flight attendant Annalise Michie the experience was one she’ll never forget.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to be a part of. Every day in my job, I look forward to greeting our wonderful customers – but I got to greet some customers of a different, more feathery kind and that’s really special.”

DoC technical advisor David Houston says a stoat incursion on Motutapu Island a couple of years ago all but wiped out the Shore plover population, but DOC and local iwi Ngai Tai ki Tamaki have worked hard to eradicate the pests from the island.

“This transfer is the first step in restoring a breeding population of Shore plover to the island,” says Houston.

“A number of transfers over several years will be required to achieve this and we’re grateful to Air New Zealand for the support they provide.”