Human Birds

The Friends of Maara Roa in Cannons Creek, Belmont Regional Park, invite you to be a Human Bird.

In our "Human Bird" programme, we imitate the birds — but you'll be pleased to know we don't have to eat the seeds!

The Kiwi Conservation Club kids and their families pioneered this programme for us.

Programme Participation:

What's the Human Bird Programme all about?

In our New Zealand native forests, native birds are the agents of a great percentage of the regeneration of the trees.

There are many species of our trees and shrubs which rely on birds to spread their seeds to other areas.

This is done as birds eat the ripe berries, fly elsewhere, and excrete the seeds — with a little fertiliser attached to help them grow.

It works well!

'Human birds' collect seeds, create seedballs, disperse seedballs.

What's involved in our Human Bird Programme?

  • In the summer, seeds are collected from those species which are suitable.
  • In the autumn, at least a month before needing them, the seedballs are made by:
    • mixing the seeds with a suitable clay, and
    • some potting mix which includes fertiliser, and
    • rolling all this into balls, about the size of a golf ball;
    • then storing the seedballs in a safe dry place to harden.
  • Once winter has come, and soils in the selected area are moist enough, the seedballs are thrown into areas which need to be helped to regenerate — usually into steep, heavily gorsed, or otherwise difficult areas around the edges of the bush, which are not easy to plant by hand. Throwing is usually done with the help of a racquet, to ensure the balls are sent well into the scrub.

Who can be involved?

This activity is really fun for a family, a children's club or school class, or any group which has an ongoing life covering the period needed, and wants to assist conservation.

How can you get involved?

  • The Friends of Maara Roa will select a site in the restoration area with you.
  • We arrange for a knowledgeable person to help you collect those seeds which are suitable for our area.
  • We can advise you on the best time to collect, and where best to collect them.
  • Seeds need careful treatment and storage. We can also help you learn that — it's not too difficult to do at home.
  • We can supply the clay to use.
  • You need to purchase a good quality potting mix.
  • Your group has a get-together to make the seedballs.
  • You then need to store the seedballs safely while they dry.
  • When it's time, you can have your seedball-throwing activity.
  • Make a picnic day and enjoy our beautiful bushy valley, which you are helping to improve!

For a leaflet and more information

If you want a copy of these details, view our Human Birds leaflet (PDF file 160Kb) and print off a copy for yourself.

Want to be involved? 

Programme Participation


Programme leader, Andy shows where he placed seed patties under a tree lucerne, so their 'breakdown' can be monitored.

Programme leader, Andy shows where he placed seed patties under a tree lucerne, so their 'breakdown' can be monitored.

More photos in the photo gallery.

The focus of this project for this year has altered, as seed placement is now being monitored.

Seed patties placed under recently planted lucerne allows easy monitoring, and fits with the ultimate displacement of lucerne.

The benefit of placing seed patties in recently cleared areas of young gorse, is that there is often less native plant seed in these areas and there is a need to bring bulk seed to these areas more speedily.

Earlier in the year, the Drummond family helped to disperse a number of seed balls just up from the stile, on the steep bank/cliff.  These will be beyond monitoring.

A recent trip has revealed that some of the 'placed' seed balls are still intact.  Others that have begun to break up, are showing that some of the seeds are in the process of germination.

Recent wanders through decadent gorse has revealed a great deal of native seedlings sometimes carpeting the ground.  The birds have been doing the job so well in these areas.

Testament also to the good works of the pest control teams, and planting teams, bringing plenty of primary colonisers, plants that are seeding and dispersing into a large area.

This change of approach has had many positive spin offs.

Previously collected seed brought a great hands on approach.

Some seed was sown and these have since been passed on to the Maara Roa nursery team.

There was also a donation by Allan Corry (Friends of Mana Island), of a large number of eco-sourced kahikatea seed, as well as a tray of seed sown.  (There was a masting aka mast seeding last winter for kahikatea, so Allan collected like mad.)

Thanks to all who participated in seed collection, ball making and dispersal.  Monitoring will be on-going.


Rimu (top) and Kahikatea (bottom) foliage and seeds

Rimu (top) and Kahikatea (bottom)
foliage and seeds.

Mature rimu and kahikatea have scale leaves on their branchlets and produce swollen, fruit-like structures (receptacles) to support and partially protect their seeds. 
Rimu seeds, borne on the tips of upturned branchlets, take about 18 months to ripen after pollination. 
Kahikatea seeds develop a bluish bloom as they ripen, some six months after pollination. 
Birds eat the seeds and fleshy receptacles, and distribute the seeds which pass through their digestive system intact.
The Encyclodpedia of NZ (]

As part of the Human Birds programme, and led by our passionate Andy, seed was gathered during summer (2010/2011) and autumn from the following plants.

The 1st number indicates the number of plants collected from.  The 2nd, the estimated number of seeds.

  • Aristotelia serrata (makomako, wineberry) ::  15+  100+
  • Carpodetus serratus (putaputaweta, marbleleaf) ::  5+  ?
  • Coprosma areolata ::  15+  100+
  • Coprosma cunninghamii ::  15+  100+
  • Coprosma grandifolia ::  5+  100+
  • Coprosma rhamanioides (thorny coprosma) ::  15+  1,000+
  • Coprosma robusta (karamu) ::  15+  1,000+
  • Cordyline australis (ti kouka, cabbage tree) ::  5+  1,000+
  • Dacrycarpus dacryioides (kahikatea, white pine) ::  ?  100+
  • Geniestoma ligustrifolium (hangehange, maori privet) ::  15+  1,000+
  • Leptospermum scoparium (manuka, tea tree) ::  15+  1,000+
  • Macropiper excelsum (kawakawa, pepper tree) ::  15+  100+
  • Melicope ternata ::  5+ 100+
  • Melicytus ramiflorus (mahoe, whiteywood) ::  15+  1,000+
  • Myrsine australis (mapou, red matipo) ::  15+  1,000+
  • Phormium cookianum (mountain flax, wharariki) ::  5  1,000+
  • Pittosporum eugenioides (tarata, lemonwood) ::  15+  1,000+
  • Pittosporum tenuifolium (kohuhu / kohukohu, black matipo) ::  15+  1,000+
  • Pseudopanax arboreus (whauwhaupaku, fivefinger) ::  15+  1,000+
  • Solanum lacciniatum (poroporo) ::  15+  1,000+

Refer to our "What we plant and protect" page to help you with identifying those plants (as many as possible) that we are using (planting) or protecting in this project.

During the winter Andy cleaned and prepared the seed, and on Sunday, 13th November 2011, some of the committee got together and made the seedballs – well, no we didn’t – this year we made seed Frisbees! [Ed. Rather more like patties, actually!]

Andy wants to monitor closely the germination of seeds distributed this way, so thin, pikelet-sized rounds of modelling clay were shaped, and the seeds and potting mix gently enclosed between the sealed edges.

On Saturday 26th November 2011, these were placed in marked sites around the bush remnant where they can be easily monitored.


Collecting Seeds and Making Seedballs

Human Birds programme - making seedballs

Making seedballs

[See more photos]

Owen Spearpoint, Greater Wellington

Owen Spearpoint,
Greater Wellington

[See more photos]

In February and March, successful Seed Collection mornings were held under the guidance of Owen Spearpoint, a Greater Wellington staff member.

Participants took their seeds home, cleaned and stored them, bringing them back for the third session, making the Seedballs.

Thanks to Mana College for letting us use their Art Room for this hands-on activity.

Now the Seedballs are being stored and hardened off till the winter weather

Then everyone will meet again for the "Throwing" morning, expected to be sometime in late June when the soil and moisture is right.

"Throwing" sites will be selected in the Takapu area of the Maara Roa restoration project.

Participants (totalling 18) have come from as far afield as Kilbirnie and Kapiti, and will be able to use this method of native forest restoration in other areas across the region, restoring private farm areas, public reserves, and Maori land, now they have attended the course organised by the Friends of Maara Roa.

Seed Throwing Day

Another seedball 'served' into the gorge.

Another seedball 'served' into the gorge.

[See more photos]

On 4th July, the "Human Birds" threw or batted, the seedballs down into the steep-sided gorge of Cannons Creek, which drops away just beyond the gorse and scrub in the foreground.

This part of the valley is accessed from Takapu Road, Wellington, with a 20-minute walk along a Park track then across paddocks above the gorge.

The trees in the background are on the other side of the gorge, on the proposed route of the Transmission Gully motorway.

The gorge area targeted for the seedballs is defined as the "Takapu Conservation Covenant" and is fenced off from stock.

However, the native bush in the gorge is patchy and struggles to survive among rocky bluffs with gorse, bracken and pine trees - a typical site to use seedballs as a regeneration method, rather than attempting restorative planting by hand.

Participants in this programme included several private land owners, Nga Uruora (Paekakariki Coastal Escarpment), Nikau Reserve (Kapiti), and a science teacher from Onslow College.

With ten Friends and ten visitors from other bush restoration projects now able to undertake a "Human Birds" programme in their own areas, the regeneration of steep gullies, escarpments & gorsey slopes of many Wellington region landscapes can be expedited with minimal labour and maximum enjoyment - in the manner of our delightful native birds.

Many thanks to Owen Spearpoint of Greater Wellington, and Janet Hollow of Forest and Bird's Kiwi Conservation Club, for their help in this Programme.

See more Human Bird Programme photos.


'Human bird' Kiwi Conservation Club members, 8 July 2008

'Human bird' Kiwi Conservation Club members, 8 July 2008.

[See more photos]

The Kiwi Conservation Club children went seed-hunting on 22nd April, and made their seedballs in the following school holidays.

On Tuesday 8th July, it was their "Human Birds" seedball throwing day.

They walked down to the stile on the Takapu Track, and just past that there is an old vehicle track running right along the top of Cannons Creek valley's western ridge.

Walking down that, they threw the seedballs as far as they could down into the scrubby gorse and bush.

To finish off the day, they then walked down the Takapu Track to our planting area for a nature walk with Neil Bellingham.

Here's the article and photos from the Kapi-Mana News 5 August, 2008.


'Human birds' seed collectors

'Human birds' seed collectors

The Kiwi Conservation Club joined with us to collect seeds for both us and Pauatahanui Forest and Bird.

Sylvia Jenkin, Jean Luke and Wanda Tate met them on Saturday 11th March 2006, and helped the children and their mothers collect quite a few seeds.

Those seeds suitable for Maara Roa were rolled into seedballs with potting mix, clay and fertilizer.

Though their original date was postponed because of bad weather, five or six families from KCC along with Brenda Stickley threw the seedballs around the Tawa Finger later in the year.

This technique has been found to be as successful as growing and planting trees.

The children are doing what the birds are doing, have fun doing it, but don't have to eat the seeds!

Kids, you did well, in what is quite a rough area!