Bittern may be on the brink in Northland. As a secretive, wetland bird with a threatened status of ‘nationally critical’ – no one is quite sure how many bittern we have left, if they are doing ok, or if we are fast losing them to predators and lack of suitable habitat.
A new ‘Matuku Mahi’ initiative is now gearing up across Te Tai Tokerau involving Kiwi Coast, the Department of Conservation, Northland Regional Council and the QEII National Trust. The aim is to work together to find out how many bittern we have left and what we can do to help boost their numbers back to a healthy and robust population.
Australasian Bittern (matuku-hūrepo) once gathered in large flocks. Now they are seldom seen, and if so, usually as solitary figures.
Their distinctive “freeze” stance when disturbed and brown-grey plumage helps them to camouflage into the reeds when disturbed. In fact they are so good at doing this that many people have never seen one.
New Zealand’s native bittern populations have been decimated by wetland drainage and habitat clearance. Introduced pests such as rats, stoats and feral cats predate adults and chicks, even eating their eggs on the nest. It is estimated that only 250 -1,000 mature individuals remain nationwide – but how many do we have left in Northland?
The first step is to figure this out – to compile a Matuku Inventory. Luckily while they may be difficult to see, they are easy to hear. During the bittern breeding season (Spring) males produce a “boom” sound to attract females and to guard their territory from other males.
Just as we do for kiwi, we can listen out for bittern and compile results to get a regional snap-shot of where things are at.
So the call is booming out to Northlanders to help bring bittern back from the brink. There’s two main ways you can help:
- Report bittern sightings, calls and known regular bittern locations either via the NRC dedicated Bittern Encounter Form or iNaturalist
- Take part in the Sept – Nov 2023 Northland Matuku Count – training provided!
To find out more and get involved contact: Your Katrina Hansen at NRC, Ngaire at Kiwi Coast, or Nan Pullman at QEII National Trust.
Top things we can do to help bittern / matuku thrive are:
- Make sure there are plenty of wet areas for bittern / matuku to feed in throughout the year. They like shallow water with plenty of reed or rush-like vegetation. Rāupo and Juncus plant species are good plants to encourage.
- Look after and restore natural streams, creeks and ponds on properties to help support populations
- Help create and restore wetlands within your local area. Bittern / Matuku have lost 90% of their habitat and the remaining 10% is degraded and under threat.
- Control animal pests and predators in and around any sites bittern / matuku may visit
- Champion the protection of wetlands and improving the quality of our waterways