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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

New Zealand Seabirds: A Natural History is by Kerry-Jayne Wilson

New Zealand is the seabird capital of the world. Although no other country has so many species of breeding seabirds, and about a third of them breed nowhere else, no book had ever been written specifically about them until now. In New Zealand Seabirds. A Natural History. ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson, a retired University Lecturer, has ably filled the gap. In this important and fascinating book she shares knowledge acquired over decades of research.

It was an adventurous life which took her to many different parts of the world, including New Zealand, the Chatham and sub Antarctic islands, Antarctica, the Southern Ocean and Newfoundland.

New Zealand Seabirds: A Natural History is richly illustrated. The cover, showing a Buller’s albatross gliding majestically above a calm and intensely blue ocean, is beautiful. Some others which especially caught my eye were a photograph of a fairy prion pecking surface plankton in flight, spotted shags cliff nesting, and a light-mantled sooty albatross, with its long straight wings, soaring in wild weather.

In Chapter One she describes the different groups of seabirds and where they occur. The definition of a seabird is that it obtains all or most of its food from the sea. As seagulls find much of their food on land, this means, that strictly speaking, they should be excluded which will come as a surprise to many.

In the chapters that follow, seabirds’ breeding biology and demography, food and feeding methods, seabirds and the New Zealand marine environment and their migration between breeding seasons are covered. There is a great deal of in-depth information here, but it is written in such a non- technical and interesting way that it is readily accessible to those of us without a scientific background.

The final chapter is a comprehensive overview of the conservation of New Zealand’s seabirds. Seabirds are the most threatened bird group in the world. Their situation is dire. She writes:

‘Seabirds are in trouble-not just in New Zealand but worldwide. Seabirds are more at risk than any comparable group of birds. New Zealand has more than twice as many threatened species than any other country, and more threatened seabirds than threatened land birds. All of our penguins and albatrosses, all but six of the other petrels, nine of eleven shags and two of three gulls are extinct, endangered, or threatened. Fifty-five of those species or subspecies are endemic.’

Their small clutches make them susceptible to population decline. And they face numerous challenges as they travel, often over vast distances, to forage at sea. But by far the biggest threats they face are manmade. On shore introduced mammalian predators like rats, stoats, weasels and feral cats kill thousands. At sea, fisheries’ seabird bycatch, oil spills, plastic pollution and global warming do them great harm.

In New Zealand there have been some successes. Over one hundred islands are now predator free. While guiding at Tiritiri Matangi Island last week, my group of visitors were delighted to be able to view penguin chicks, snug and safe in their nesting boxes. An increasing number of predator fenced enclosures are also being constructed onshore.

Offshore the issues are far more complex and difficult to manage but Kerry-Jayne Wilson feels strongly that, as we have more endemic and threatened seabirds than any other country, New Zealand should take a leadership role in their conservation and must do more. I think we would all agree.

I found New Zealand Seabirds: A Natural History a very informative and thought provoking read. It greatly expanded my knowledge about these amazing creatures. I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in New Zealand birds.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Potton & Burton


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