New Zealand Fairy Tern – Sternula nereis davisae

The New Zealand Fairy Tern, also known as the tara-iti, is a small Tern which breeds on the lower half of the Northland Peninsula of the North Island of New Zealand . It is the smallest tern breeding in New Zealand and is a subspecies of the Fairy Tern.

Breeding is limited to four regular sites: Waipu, Mangawhai, Pakiri and the South Kaipara Head. The wintering range of the birds extends over the Kaipara Harbour. Outside of the breeding season fairy terns form flocks on the harbour, often around Tapora.

The number of birds plummeted to three pairs in 1983 but intensive conservation efforts were put in place and numbers increased so that in 1998 the population totalled some 25 to 30 birds with 8 to 10 breeding pairs spread over three breeding sites. Numbers have continued to increase and by 2013 had reached 30 to 40 individuals including 10 breeding pairs. This summer (2013/2014), eight eggs didn’t hatch, but 12 chicks have taken flight – the best result since tern conservation began 30 years ago.

Photographing New Zealand’s rarest bird the Fairy Tern

On a recent birding trip out to Waipu Estuary I was lucky enough to meet a couple of lovely volunteers from the Department of Conservation, PJ and Briar. They were keeping an eye on the very rare resident Fairy Terns and new addition too their family. These two lovely ladies showed me the family and told me about the success they have had this breeding season with a record amount of fledgelings. On this particular day the tide was not in my favour, it was coming in so I had limited time to get close to the birds and get a decent photo.

I decided to give it another go a couple of weeks later (18/01/2014), this time when the tide was low and outgoing so I could comfortably spend a couple of hours observing the family group. Fortunately for me they were co-operative and after a dozen or so quiet approaches to the young Fairy Tern patiently waiting for a meal, I was able to get some great photos. One of the parents came in and feed a fish to the fledgling right in front of me, a very special moment for me as a photographer and very excited to share this moment with other bird enthusiasts.

Fairy Tern with Chick  - Waipu, NZ

Fairy Tern with Chick – Waipu, NZ

So many of our native New Zealand birds are vulnerable to extinction due to habitat loss and predation by cats, dogs, stoates etc, I hope sharing these photos will help people appreciate how special these fragile creatures are to New Zealand and how important it is we actively ensure they are around for future generations.