Group of native ducks released into wild after Covid-19 caused slight hold up

Home is now where the Awapoto River is for a group of rare and endangered New Zealand ducks bred in captivity. 

Forty-nine pāteke/brown teal ducks last night arrived to their new home in the Abel Tasman National Park, after Covid-19 lockdown and level restrictions caused a bit of a hold up. 

The ducks were released as a joint effort between Project Janszoon, the Department of Conservation (DOC), Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust and Air New Zealand, working together to get through tricky logistics because of the coronavirus restrictions.

Pāteke are one of New Zealand’s rarest ducks, with an estimated 2000 to 2500 left in the wild. But, with initiatives as this, they're making a come back. 

Project Janszoon director Bruce Vander Lee says yesterday's release was really more of a homecoming, than a rehoming. He says the breed was likely prevalent in the park in the past.

"Last night was an amazing night. There's something so special about releasing pāteke.

Mr Vander Lee says it's like the ducks know almost instantly that they've made it home. 

"They come out and hit the water and for three or four seconds they look around. Then they see the other ducks and they go into this relaxation state and it's like like, ‘Yup, I'm home,’ then they swim off and start being a duck."

To date, 288 pāteke have been released back into the wetlands of the national park as part of DOC and Project Janszoon's ongoing conservation efforts since 2017. 

Initially the group's aim was to release 300 into the park, but with the ducks beginning to breed Mr Vander Lee says they may not have to do much more. 

"We’re getting really good indications with pāteke in the area. We had breeding of an unbanded bird with a banded bird so that means that unbanded bird was produced on the site and is now breeding on the site.

"They’re also spreading out from the release site and setting out to find new spots. That’s a great sign that they are wandering because there are enough being produced."

Another win has been DOC's efforts in controlling pests and predators in the area, and keeping the birds and other native wildlife safe. This has meant that no radio-tagged pāteke have been killed by introduced predators. 

"The key with pāteke is to have good pest control," says Mr Vander Lee. 

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, DOC had been unable to reset pest traps in the park. But with the work that's already been done with predator control Mr Vander Lee says the birds have been fine.

"The good news for us is that the DOC rangers are back on the hills resetting the traps. 

"Our monitoring of the pāteke showed that we haven't lost any birds over that period." 

There are many pāteke/brown teal breeders around the country, like the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust which is where this particular group of ducks arrived from. 

Mr Vander Lee and the team at Project Janszoon will continue to monitor the ducks as they adjust to life in the wild, and settle into their new, but familiar, home.