In 1867 the Italian research ship, Magenta, was sailing 800km east of the Chatham Islands, near the Tubai Islands, when a beautiful white-breasted bird flew by. Immediately this bird was collected by the scientists on board, with the help of a gun, and named the magenta petrel, Pterodroma magentae. Later the preserved bird was stored in the University of Turin Museum. Although the University was bombed during World War II the mysterious sole specimen somehow survived.
For more than a century following its discovery the magenta petrel was thought to be extinct. Then on January 1973 a man named David Crockett led an Ornithological Society group to a place they named Taiko Town. You could be mistaken for thinking the location was somewhere in the wild west but it was in fact in the wild south on Chatham Island.
On that fateful January evening Crockett and his party, armed only with a torches, attracted two birds in Tuku Valley which they identified as the missing magenta petrel. However, it wasn’t until 5 years later on New Year’s day in 1978 that two birds were actually caught and banded when with measurements and photographs Crockett was able to scientifically prove that the magenta petrel and Chatham Island Taiko were indeed the same species.
For Crockett the story of the taiko began in 1952, when he was a schoolboy helping out at the Canterbury Museum where he came across some unusual bird bones found by the great naturalist, Sir Charles Fleming, in the windswept hills of the Chatham Islands during the 1930s. Crockett eventually linked these bones to a single mysterious specimen labelled the magenta petrel in the Turin Museum. Later Crockett established that the petrel had once been one of the more common birds on the Chathams where it was known as the Taiko. Huge colonies of Taiko once provided a principal food source for the Moriori and later the Maori inhabitants, but these quickly disappeared once forests were cleared and predators such as rats, pigs, cats, possum, stoats and ferrets were introduced. But even when the population numbered around one million pairs during the medieval times the Taiko only ever bred on the main Chatham Island.
Based in Whangarei as a schools science adviser, David Crockett has spent every summer, since 1969, searching the southern forests of Chatham Island for the bird and, when it was rediscovered, working towards its recovery. As well as the hundreds of off island volunteers, local landowners are an important part of the Taiko recovery programme providing access and information. In 1985 the Tuanui family donated 1028 ha of private forest — the Tuku Nature Reserve — today one of the key breeding areas for the Chatham Island Taiko.
In 1987, the year the first nesting burrow was located, the Department of Conservation began intensively trapping predators in the area. One breeding season 27 cats, 105 possums, and 169 rats were caught in the breeding area. More recently a predator proof fence similar to that used at the Karori Reserve has been used to establish a secure breeding area for the Chatham Island taiko.
Of the 24 species of seabird which breed on the Chatham Islands six of them are New Zealand’s most threatened seabirds while several species have already become extinct on the island following human settlement. The Chatham Island Taiko is now regarded as the world’s rarest seabird and is classed as a critically endangered endemic with a total population of 100–140 birds and only 6 known nesting burrows.
The Chatham Island Taiko should not, however, be confused with the Taiko which breeds only on Little and Great Barrier Islands. The Taiko also known as the Parkinson’s petrel, Procellaria parkinsoni, is also a threatened endemic.
Other common names: —
oestrelata magenta, magenta petrel
38 cm., 475 g., dark sooty grey–brown all over except for the underparts from breast to undertail which are white, bill black, legs and feet are pink. When flying over the nesting area or when handled, Chatham Island taiko are known to make ‘or–wik’, ‘si si si’ or ‘orrrr’ sounds.
Where to find: —
Illustration description: —
Rowley, George Dawson, Ornithological Miscellany, 1876–1878.
Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.
Alex Eagles, 1/7/2000.
Page date & version: —
Thursday, 5 June 2014; ver2009v1