Morgan Fitz, of South New Brighton School, asks :-

What was the first bird in the estuary?

Chris Jacomb, an archaeologist at the Canterbury Museum, responded.

I'm afraid that it is not possible to tell you which was the very first bird or species of bird at the Estuary. The environment is not of the type which contains fossils of past estuary life, but we do know enough to at least partially answer your question.

We have a reasonable idea of the age of the Estuary. It was formed long after the volcanic activity which created Banks Peninsula (which finished approximately seven million years ago). The estuary is thought to be less than 1,000 years old at the most, and is probably only half that age. You are probably saying to yourself "now what about the first birds?" Well, we are in the very fortunate position of knowing about some of the birds which were present on the shores of the Estuary 500 to 600 years ago from archaeological evidence.

Excavations of early Maori sites at Moa-bone Point Cave and Moncks Cave in Redcliffs (both occupied approximately 500 to 600 years ago) uncovered the bones of the following bird species: penguin, mollymawk, prion, shearwater, shag, black-backed gull, gull, extinct swan, ducks, falcon, kiwi, weka, extinct weka, extinct giant rail, pigeon, kaka, extinct kaka, parakeet, pipit, tui, and five species of moa. Of special interest is the fact that the extinct swan, excavated from Moncks Cave in 1889, was the first one ever found of the type. Of the above, only the first seven (or possibly nine) are likely to have been caught on the Estuary; the others were probably hunted on the nearby plains or hills.