Andrew Crosslands — winner of the Birds New Zealand Robert Falla Memorial Award 2019

Feather in his cap

by Ann van Engelen

Christchurch City Council park ranger Andrew Crosslands has won the Birds New Zealand Robert Falla Memorial Award 2019 for his work helping to conserve bird populations around Christchurch.

Andrew’s responsibilities include bird and wildlife monitoring across the city and after decades of experience can spot a flock of hundreds of birds and within seconds identify their species and accurately estimate their numbers.

Andrew was praised for his meticulous field observations and the way he has used his data and research to benefit birds.

He says he is most proud of how he and other council staff have helped improve outcomes for local birds by protecting and enhancing existing habitats and establishing new ones.

“I have been counting birds for over 30 years. I have about 20,000 pages of field notes and have taken part in tens of thousands of counts of different birds around Banks Peninsula, Heathcote and Avon Rivers, Lake Ellesmere and coastal areas,” he says.

“I have got a really powerful database of information and have been able to use that to identify the sites that are really important to local wildlife so they can be managed appropriately. Over the last 20 years, we have been recreating a lot of what was lost. Counting birds show how important city habitats are, for example, the biggest population of pukeko is at Travis Wetland in Burwood and the largest population of godwits is around the Avon-Heathcote estuary. That kind of data breaks the assumption that it doesn’t really matter what we do around town because these birds live elsewhere.”

Mr Crossland says New Zealand’s bird life is incredibly diverse. In Christchurch, 242 different species have been recorded and on an average day, he might see 70 different types of bird. Water and wetland birds are his particular passion because they are often rare, endemic, or they migrate from elsewhere.

“They show how our local island is connected to a larger global ecosystem.

Native bird populations in Christchurch are growing and it is incredibly positive. After the earthquakes, we had some setbacks such as avian botulism, but now there is a recovery taking place with increased habitat and better predator control. Within the area that the council manages things are really improving.” Council Regional Parks manager Kay Holder says Andrew’s knowledge and experience have been invaluable to the council since he joined the parks team in 2002. “He has made a huge contribution to our understanding of local birdlife and helped to enhance wetland habitats around our city. This award is very well-deserved.”