Mohua/Yellowhead transfer to Resolution Island

First return of native birds to Resolution Island in over 100 years

- thanks again to Peregrine Wines, their third such project

Peregrine Wines logo

Once again we acknowledge the commitment of Peregrine Wines to conservation in Fiordland. A sponsorship of $20,000 over two years, led to Peregrine Wines’ transfer of 60 mohua to Dusky Sound's Resolution Island in October 2011.  


A hugely significant step forward for conservation:

Mohua - James Reardon

The translocation of mohua from South Westland to Resolution Island, Fiordland's largest offshore island, marked a momentous step in conservation, it being the first time that native wildlife had been returned to this our first ever Nature Reserve, declared such in 1894 when Richard Henry was appointed its 'curator and caretaker'. Thus becoming our first conservation ranger, Henry pioneered the conservation techniques used today, translocating over 500 birds to Resolution. But in 1900, devastating news. Stoats were seen on its shores. They could swim further than previously thought.

A century on, an ambitious trapping project begun by the Department of Conservation in 2008 has helped to restore Resolution Island so that it is indeed an island sanctuary. With stoat numbers at a level where they will no longer impact upon bird populations, it is once again safe to return threatened species to Fiordland’s largest island sanctuary. At 20,860 ha, Resolution Island will be able to sustain a genetically diverse population of mohua in the thousands, making it the largest protected site in New Zealand for this nationally vulnerable species.

An excellent example of a trust partnership at work:

mohua release - Fiordland Conservation TrustMohua being released onto Resolution Island Biodiversity Ranger Dave Crouchley

The mohua released on Resolution Island were caught and transferred from the Landsborough Valley in South Westland. The success of a predator control programme in the Landsborough Valley run by the South Westland Department of Conservation enabled the number of möhua to increase steadily over recent years. They assisted with and supported this translocation, along with tangata whenua from both the West Coast and Southland.

A West Coast business Mountain Helicopters from Franz Josef also supported the transfer by donating one hour of flying time towards the project.

The achievement of such a big conservation milestone would not have been possible without the $20,000 donated by Peregrine Wines and the assistance of the people and sponsors named above. As Southland District Mayor Frana Cardno exclaimed, "It was one of the most incredible and special days of my life, and I congratulate Peregrine on their vision and commitment to this amazing project."

Some facts about the mohua/yellowhead

Mohua/ yellowhead are a small brightly coloured songbird, distinctive by their bright yellow head and melodic calls.  Mohua were once widespread throughout the beech forests of the South Island forming large flocks but are now rated nationally vulnerable. 

In the 1980s it was recognised that mohua had disappeared from 75% of their former range and that declines were continuing.  Mohua are particularly vulnerable to predation by stoats and rats in years of high predator numbers.  Recent management has shown that mohua populations can be maintained in mainland sites, such as the Landsborough Valley, using appropriate predator control. 

However a longer term solution for improving the security of möhua has proven to be translocations to predator-free islands where populations flourish in the absence of predators. 

From the news archives

- October 2011

Winery toasts success at the birthplace of New Zealand conservation

Mohua Wine by Peregrine winesA southern winery is leading the way in growing support for conservation through business. 

Peregrine Wines recently toasted the success of their fourth conservation initiative through the Fiordland Conservation Trust and the Department of Conservation with the transfer of 60 mohua/ yellow-head back to Resolution Island, the birthplace of New Zealand conservation.

Peregrine Winery based in Gibbston, Central Otago raised funds for the transfer through the sales of their successful avian branded wines including the Peregrine and Saddleback branded wines.  “It seemed the right time to find another very significant project involving these rare birds that we could become involved in”, said Peregrine’s Marketing Director Greg Hay.  Through a partnership with the Fiordland Conservation Trust, Peregrine got involved with the transfer “not only from a funding perspective but also as active participants in the capture and release of these vibrant little songbirds” said Mr Hay.  Previous projects from the sales of the Peregrine wines have included transfers of saddleback from Breaksea Island to Chalky Island, Breaksea to Bauza Island in Doubtful Sound as well as the transfer of saddleback from Ulva Island to the recently established Orokinui sanctuary in Otago.

The transfer marks a momentous step in conservation being the first time that native wildlife has been returned to the birthplace of New Zealand conservation. Resolution Island was declared New Zealand’s first Nature Reserve in 1894 and in the years following caretaker Richard Henry moved hundreds of kiwi and kakapo to the safety of the island, away from the stoats and rats that were devastating the mainland’s wildlife. But with the invasion of stoats to Resolution Island in the early 1900s, Richard Henry abandoned his conservation dreams. 

An ambitious trapping project undertaken by the Department of Conservation over the past three years is helping to restore Resolution Island (20,860 ha) to its former stoat-free status.  With a breeding population of stoats no longer present, it is now safe to return endangered or threatened species, such as mohua, to Fiordland’s largest island sanctuary.   Due to the size of Resolution Island, it will be able to sustain a mohua population of thousands, making it the largest protected site for mohua in New Zealand.

“This is a significant occasion for all involved, due to the history of Resolution Island and the phenomenal task to get the island back to being safe to reintroduce endangered species”, Roger McNaughton, Fiordland Conservation Trust Chairman.  “This is an example of how the combined efforts of different organisations can make substantial gains to conservation.  Peregrines Wines investment and participation in the mohua transfer is an incredible contribution”.

The mohua were transferred from the Landsborough Valley, near Haast, where numbers have been recovering well since stoat, possum and rat control was established in the valley in 2000 by the Department of Conservation. There are now estimated to be at least a thousand mohua in the valley so transferring 60 to Resolution Island will not affect the Landsborough population.

Mohua are particularly vulnerable to rats and stoats, especially in years of heavy beech flowering as the seeds provide an abundance of food for rats and stoats causing them to reach plague proportions. Large flocks of mohua were once seen throughout the beech forests of the South Island but today only a few remain in small pockets of mainland, or on predator-free islands.  Transferring mohua back to Fiordland’s largest island sanctuary will help to secure the future of the species.  

For more information please contact Fiordland Conservation Trust Manager-Rachel Cockburn 027 4952 954 or email the FCT.

Additional Information:

Peregrine Wines and Fiordland Conservation Trust: Peregrine Winery, named after the New Zealand endemic falcon or Karearea in Maori, has been involved in avian conservation in New Zealand for the past decade. It has been one of the major sponsors of the Wingspan trust of New Zealand, based in Rotorua for the past 10 years, a world class facility that is focused on the captive breeding and rehabilitation from injury of NZ`s raptors.

More recently Peregrine has taken a long term position alongside the Department of Conservation in Te Anau and the Fiordland Conservation Trust, to help fund targeted avian projects in southern areas of New Zealand. To date this support has involved the transfer of tieke / South Island saddleback from successfully established populations on predator-free islands, to newly established safe havens on islands.

Mountain Helicopters: A local helicopter company in South Westland donated one hour’s worth of flying time to the Landsborough Valley for this transfer.  Mountain Helicopters also helped DOC with flights to the Landsborough Valley for ongoing work maintaining stoat trap lines.

Logistics: A catching team of twelve people including Peregrine Wines representatives, local iwi and Department of Conservation staff camped in the valley for several days prior to the transfer.  The mohua were caught in mist-nets rigged between trees and flown the same day by helicopter to Resolution Island, in Dusky Sound, Fiordland.  Birds were banded so that the success of the transfer can be measured once unbanded birds are sighted.

Resolution Island:  In 1894 Resolution Island in Dusky Sound, Fiordland, became New Zealand’s first Nature Reserve and the birthplace for New Zealand conservation.  Richard Henry was appointed as caretaker, and during the next 12 years he transferred over 500 native birds (mostly kiwi and kakapo) to the safety of the island – away from the rats and stoats that were devastating the mainland’s wildlife.  Unfortunately by 1900 stoats had invaded Resolution Island destroying Richard Henry’s conservation dreams. 

Over 110 years later the Department of Conservation is restoring Resolution Island to its former stoat-free status. In 2008 the Department began a programme to rid the island of stoats and deer.  Stoats were removed using 2466 kill traps placed around the island and on the nearby mainland; they are checked and baited three times a year.  There are thought to be very few stoats left on Resolution Island with no indication of breeding during the 2010/11 summer.  Stoat traps will continue to be baited and checked into the future to ensure any potential stoats (or rats) arriving on the island are caught. Deer numbers have been reduced significantly using both ground and aerial hunting with the eradication programme in its third year of knock-down.  Mice remain as the only introduced animal not yet to be controlled on Resolution Island.  Rats and possums have never been present.

Resolution Island (20,860 ha) is the largest island in Fiordland and has the potential to support significant populations of threatened species, including a substantial population of mohua, helping to safeguard this species from extinction. 

Landsborough Valley: The möhua were transferred from the Landsborough Valley in South Westland. The population has been recovering well with good predator management but the Landsborough mohua have not yet been safeguarded on any offshore islands.  The Department of Conservation began predator control in the Landsborough Valley in 2000.  The mohua in the valley have been monitored since 1998 and have recorded a steady increase in numbers.

Tangata whenua: Mohua are a taonga species for Maori. Te Runanga o Makaawhio from South Westland support this transfer and were present during the catching of the möhua in the Landsborugh Valley and their subsequent release.  Te Runanga o Oraka Aparima from Southland also support the transfer and welcomed the möhua to their new home on Resolution Island.