Chatham Island black robin
Image: Leon Berard | Creative Commons

Introduction

The recovery of the Chatham Islands black robin from the brink of extinction is an internationally renowned conservation success story.

Highlights

Population: Around 250 in 2013
New Zealand status: Endemic
Conservation statusThreatened–Nationally Critical
Found in: Mangere and Rangatira (south east) islands, in the Chatham Islands group
Threats: Predation, disease

In this section

Did you know?

All of today's black robins are descended from the last breeding female, Old Blue. She was one of the longest-lived robins known, reaching 14 years old.

Black robin conservation

By 1900, the introduction of rats and cats following human settlement had wiped out the birds from everywhere apart from Little Mangere Island. The accidental introduction of predators to the two islands where it presently survives is still a threat.

All black robins have the same weaknesses and strengths, stemming from the fact they have similar DNA. This means that a single disease could kill them.

Escape from extinction

In 1972 wildlife officers could find only 18 black robins living on Little Mangere Island. In 1976 there were only seven birds left. These were all moved to Mangere Island where 120,000 trees had been planted to provide better shelter. By 1980 a further two birds had died, and none had bred.

There were only five black robins in the world in 1980, with just a single breeding pair left. The outlook was bleak, but a dedicated team of New Zealand Wildlife Service staff took the daring step of cross-fostering eggs and young to another species to boost productivity.

The last breeding pair named Old Blue (female) and Old Yellow (male), and a foster species, the Chatham Island tits, ended up saving the black robin from extinction.

In early 2013, the black robin population was around 250. Numbers remain stable.

Attempts made to establish another population in a fenced convenant on Pitt Island have failed, possibly due to competition for food with introduced mice.

Model for success

The fostering programme used to save the black robin was such a fantastic success that it has been used as a case model on how to save endangered birds around the world.

With the black robin population now well-established on Mangere and South East Islands, we hope to establish further populations in predator-free areas on Pitt and Chatham Islands.

There are even hopes that the black robin may one day be returned to its ancestral home, Little Mangere, where the vegetation is slowly regenerating.

Plans to help black robin:

You can help

If you are travelling to the Chatham Islands, or transporting goods or livestock there, be careful that you don't accidently introduce pest animals, plants or diseases. These might threaten black robin or other rare and endangered flora and fauna in this unique environment.

Emergency hotline

Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife. 

Help protect our native birds

When visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
  • Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
  • Check for pests when visiting pest-free islands.
  • Leave nesting birds alone.
  • Use available access ways to get to the beach. 
  • Avoid leaving old fishing lines on beaches or in the sea.
  • Follow the water care code and local navigation bylaws.
  • Don't drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.
Other ways to help
  • Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
  • Volunteer to control predators and restore bird habitats.
  • Set predator traps on our property.
  • Put a bell on your cat's collar, feed it well, and keep it indoors at dusk/dawn and at night.
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