Cat culprit under suspicion

2 May 2015

News 20150502 cat tui kill

The discovery of 19 bird corpses strewn in a small area on Wellington’s Miramar Peninsula, in January this year, prompted a search for clues to identify the culprit.

Joakim Liman, of Te Motu Kairangi, Miramar Ecological Restoration Group, said there was fresh kill as well as bird remains that appeared to be two to three weeks’ old. The dead birds were found in a 20-square-metre area close to a small stream where birds come down to bathe and drink. The remains indicated predation as they had been dismembered, with bodies mainly eaten and the wings, feet and heads scattered.

“It was particularly distressing that eighteen of the nineteen birds were tui, including chicks,” Joakim says. “Tui have returned to this area in recent years and started breeding in 2006, so this represents a significant reduction in the local tui population.”

After photographing and gathering the corpses, the next step was to search for other clues.

Joakim says they already suspected cat predation because a local resident had been putting cat food out nearby and the pattern of kill sign was consistent with cats, although it could also have been another predator such as stoats. Then a cat paw print was found in mud by the stream and some unburied cat faeces. Two days later, the group set up two camera traps and recorded a white cat roaming in the vicinity, the timing of which correlated with two more tui corpses discovered.

Some of the bird remains are being tested at Victoria University of Wellington for traces of the predator’s saliva or DNA to hopefully confirm the suspect’s identity. Meanwhile, the group has put out cat traps and is encouraging local cat owners to take steps to reduce the risk of their cats hunting native fauna.

> See more cat clues here on Pest Detective.

Photograph: One of the tui corpses found at Centennial Reserve, Miramar. (Courtesy Joakim Liman.)