Photo courtesy of Ian McHenry
The Black Stilt or Kakī (Māori), Himantopus novaezelandiae, is a large wader in the avocet and stilt family Recurvirostridae. The species is endemic to New Zealand. Adults are 40 cm long. They have very long red legs, a long thin black bill and black plumage. Juveniles have a white breast, neck and head, with a black patch around the eyes.
Despite 20 years of intensive protection, the Black Stilt remains the rarest wading bird in the world. Intensive management of kaki began in 1981, when the population had declined to just 23 adult birds. The current wild population is estimated at 85 adult birds (February 2010). There is a captive population of some 13 adults.
Annual release in the wild of captive-bred birds, and predator control have probably prevented kaki from becoming extinct in the wild. During the breeding season, Black Stilt is restricted to the Mackenzie basin in the South Island. The majority of kaki will also overwinter in the Mackenzie basin, unlike other waders in the region that migrate to warmer climates for winter.
Black Stilt breed at 2-3 years of age. They are one of the world's most endangered birds. Drainage and hydroelectric development has in the past disturbed their braided river bed habitat.Predation from mammalian invasive species, most notably mustelids such as stoats, presently poses a serious threat to the survival of the species. The third major threat to Black Stilt is hybridization with the local and more numerous Pied Stilt H. himantopus.
Since the Black Stilt nests on the braided riverbeds of the South Island, it is threatened by changes in river flows as a result of new hydro dams and changes in flow regimes for existing dams.
The Upper Waitaki Power Development posed a threat to the habitat of the Black Stilt . A programme PROJECT RIVER RECOVERY was set up to lessen this threat. The Black Stilt population on the river beds varies with the river level. Changes in the level of Lake Benmore, which caused corresponding changes in the deltas of the incoming rivers, affected the local population of Black Stilts.