Campbell Island is home to the toughest little flightless duck in the world. The Campbell Island teal has fought to survive in its cold and windy island environment. It’s the rarest duck in the world and there was a time when we thought it to be extinct altogether.
The Campbell Island teal is one of just a few species of duck that is flightless and semi-nocturnal. It evolved these features because it had no land-based predators to compete with and why waste energy flying when you don’t need to.
The toughest little duck in the world didn’t cope well to the introduction of Norway rats from sealing and whaling ships in the early 1800’s. By the time naturalists arrived on the island in 1840, there wasn’t a land bird in sight.
After several supposed sightings but no live specimens, hope began to fade and it was assumed that the Campbell Island teal was extinct. However, in 1975, visiting conservationists Christopher Robertson and Rodney Russ could hardly believe their eyes when they pulled a female Campbell Island teal from behind a moving tussock on Dent Island.
Dent Island, the last remaining strong-hold of the Campbell Island Teal (Photo: DOC)
The Department of Conservation moved quickly to remove some of the birds to a predator-free sanctuary in Pukaha Mount Bruce. They took 3 males and 1 female and attempted the first ever Campbell Island teal captive breeding programme.
Initially, the breeding programme failed and so they returned to Dent Island in 1984 where they captured another 4 males and 3 females. In 1994, the world was over-joyed to see the first captive-raised ducklings and hope was quickly restored in the conservation of the Campbell Island teal.
In 2000, the captive breeding population had gone from 11 adult birds to a total of 60 birds. A number of these birds were quickly re-located to Codfish Island (Whenua Hou) off the coast of Stewart Island to act as a “back-up population” in case disease threatened the group.
The Codfish Island population didn’t last long, and 50 birds were re-located back to Campbell Island in 2004 after rats were eradicated in 2001. Another 55 were released in 2005, and 54 in 2006, which boosted to total estimated wild population number to 159.
The eradication of rats from Campbell Island saw vegetation, wildlife, and invertebrates flourish and in 2006, the first island-born ducklings were observed on the island. Conservationists finally had the evidence they needed to see that all their hard work had paid off in saving a tough little flightless duck from extinction.
This inspiring story is one of many on Campbell Island, stay tuned to find out more about the ambitious rat eradication programme and the return of the Campbell Island snipe…