Tom the Kiwi incubating eggs at Te Ara o Te Ata: A cracking good yarn


Te Ara o Te Ata: Mt Messenger Bypass has created a 40-metre work exclusion zone around a nesting kiwi bird, as the project continues its focus on caring for native species near the project area.

While ‘Tom’ sits on a pair of eggs laid by mating partner ‘Jackie’, the Mt Messenger Alliance construction team is steering completely clear, focussing on other jobs to deliver a safer and more resilient 6km section of State Highway 3 in North Taranaki.

Tom is one of 17 kiwi in the project area that Alliance ecologists are monitoring using transmitters on the birds’ legs. Once found, the birds are monitored frequently to determine their territory sizes and once these have been established, they are monitored at least once a month.

Monitoring data arrives to a hand-held receiver in the form of audible codes, providing information such as breeding status; what time the bird started feeding the previous night; and how long the bird was out for the previous night, the night before and the average over the previous four nights. The project team also conducts regular ‘sweeps’ with a kiwi conservation dog to ensure no birds have moved into construction areas.

Alliance Environmental Manager Leigh Old says the team could tell that Tom was sitting on eggs due to his reduced activity at night. “As soon as we knew he had the eggs, we put the exclusion zone in place so he can incubate in peace.

“After at least 40 days of incubation have passed, we’ll safely lift the eggs for future hatching at the Crombie Lockwood Kiwi Burrow in Wairakei. They have a skilled team there who replicate the natural kiwi egg incubation process to ensure a high chance of chick survival.

“After hatching, the chicks are cared for until they reach about 1kg, when they’re big and strong enough to fight off stoats. At that point we’ll bring them home and release them in a pest-controlled part of the project area, well away from any construction activity.”

At present, kiwi are at risk from an abundance of pests in the forest around the project area, including stoats which prey on kiwi chicks, and rats and possums which eat the fruit that native birds depend on for food.

Save the Kiwi Executive Director Michelle Impey says protecting kiwi is a responsibility that all New Zealanders should take on, regardless of industry.

“Kiwi used to live all over the country and numbered in their millions, and groups and organisations are working incredibly hard to return kiwi to places where they’ve been locally extinct for a long time,” says Ms Impey.

“News like this, that a portion of a significant roading project has essentially been put on pause to prioritise this taonga species and create space for active kiwi conservation is incredibly uplifting. New Zealand needs more organisations that are willing to put conservation at the forefront of its operations.”

Alliance Manager Tony Pink says the project’s kiwi monitoring work is part of a broader commitment to deliver major environmental benefits to a forest that has been seriously damaged by predators and pests such as rats, stoats, possums, pigs and goats.

“Without doubt this is an environmental project as much as a roading project,” says Mr Pink.

“Whether we’re constructors, ecologists, labourers, tangata tiaki cultural monitors, engineers, office staff or any other role on the Alliance team, we are all so proud to be part of a project with such a major commitment to the environment around us.”