CISABROAD BLOG · March 6, 2018 · 2 Min Read
CISabroad Green Scholarship: Studying New Zealand Songbirds

Lisa M. was awarded CISabroad’s Green Scholarships for her semester in New Zealand. She took this opportunity to further her interest in New Zealand’s unique songbirds.


One of the first things I heard about as an environmental science student in New Zealand was the unique but somewhat problematic ecological history of the country. New Zealand’s evolutionary history of long isolation left it with a high density of species that are found nowhere else on the planet. Some of the most charismatic of the local species are New Zealand songbirds, who play an important role in the ecology of the New Zealand bush.  Me being interested in these birds, put up a birdfeeder in my garden after moving in to my new Wellington home. To my dismay, European sparrows overran my feeder, outcompeting local species. It turns out that when Europeans moved into Aotearoa, they brought with them many plants and animals that competed with native species.  Already many New Zealand species have gone extinct or been drastically threatened by European invaders.

After seeing this problem first hand, I decided to approach my back-yard dilemma scientifically.  In order to attract more native birds, and fewer sparrows, I wanted to design a better birdfeeder.   So I set up an experiment! I tested several different coloured feeders to see which would attract the fewest sparrows.  Over several weeks, I observed the traffic at my feeders, which made for many a pleasant morning, by the way.  As it turns out, sparrows don’t really like red.  There were significantly fewer sparrows on my red feeder than any other, but I did see a few local species like tui, fantail, and bellbirds. Success! After my study I removed all but the red feeder and was happy to find I was attracting more of the unique birds I traveled to see. I could also sleep happy at night knowing I was doing something to promote some very special New Zealand species.

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