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Bird colony VANISHES: Scientists baffled as they search for last remaining survivors

The shore plover or tūturuatu is a rare bird with only 250 left in the wild, with conservationists gradually reintroducing them to the mainland after the colony was almost wiped out by cats and rats more than a century ago. Since then, shore plovers have survived in a remote colony on the Chatham Islands, 650 kilometres west of New Zealand. The rare birds, which are renowned for their friendly nature, are endemic to New Zealand but because of their calming traits and coupled with their tidy nests, they are highly vulnerable to predators.

Just 13 years ago in 2007, a colony of plovers made Mana Island off the coast of the North Island’s Kapiti coast their home.

But just a few years later, a single rat killed half of the population, with the remaining birds dying shortly later due to “complications”.

From this time, conservationists have stopped short of reintroducing the shore plover until April and May, when they transported 29 young birds to the island.

The Department of Conservation (DoC) said the group of plovers were colour-branded but not tracked like some other birds.

Now the entire colony has once again disappeared, with scientists believing they have being killed by predators or escaped to the mainland.

The DOC’s Dave Houston, who is leading the shore plover recovery operation, said their strange disappearance is “frustrating” due to the amount of time and money that had initially gone into their recovery.

He is baffled by the disappearance of 26 shore plover, but his team have managed to track three survivors to Plimmerton Beach on the mainland.

A search and rescue team is being deployed to recapture the trio this week, with the DOC using reports from local residents to help tabs on them.

Mr Houston said: “The birds haven’t stayed at home like we hoped they would,” Houston said.

“We honestly don’t know what is making them leave; but it could be that a single bird decided to fly to the mainland and everyone else followed them – it could be random behaviour, we’re not sure.”

The expert said in the past, shore plovers have been known to fly as far south as Christchurch in the South Island.

He added: “It is frustrating. We can give them strict instructions, but they choose not to obey.

“They are a challenging species to manage, so it’s a great loss to then lose them. But we persist.”

If the three remaining shore plover survivors are recaptured over the coming days, they will be returned to Mana Island and held in an aviary.

Mr Houston said they will stay here for a month longer to help the birds establish “fidelity” to the island.

The birds would also have radio transmitters attached to them to increase the chances of finding them if they did mysteriously disappear again.

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