Southern New Zealand dotterel showing breeding plumage
Image: James Reardon | ©


The endangered New Zealand dotterel/tūturiwhatu is found only in this country.

    About dotterels

    The New Zealand dotterel/tūturiwhatu (Charadrius obscurus) is a threatened shorebird.

    There are two distinct subspecies, with widely separated ranges.

    The northern subspecies (Charadrius obscurus aquilonius) is a characteristic bird of sandy beaches in the northern part of the North Island.

    The southern subspecies (Charadrius obscurus obscurus) was once widespread in the South Island, but currently only breeds on herb-fields and exposed hilltops on Stewart Island/Rakiura. 

    Key differences between the subspecies

    Northern New Zealand dotterel

    • Conservation status: recovering 
    • Population: more than 2,500 
    • Smaller and lighter (146 g average weight) 
    • Breeds on beaches along the North Island coastline 
    • Feeds along the coastline 
    • Lighter orange breeding plumage 
    • Flock together for a few months each year 
    • Lives to 20 – 25 years old  

    Southern New Zealand dotterel

    • Conservation status: nationally critical 
    • Population: less than 145 individuals (April 2022) 
    • Larger and heavier (160 - 180g) 
    • Breeds on the mountain tops above the bush line on Rakiura and formerly in the South Island 
    • Feeds on the coastline 
    • Larger mid-toe (potentially for better stability in alpine environment) 
    • Dark orange breeding plumage and darker head colouring 
    • Flocks in large groups for most of the year 
    • Can potentially live to between 20 – 25 years old but due to predation from pests, their average life expectancy is less than 5 years

    NZ Dotterel Recovery Plan

    In 1993, DOC published a national recovery plan for the NZ dotterel. This plan was reviewed and a new version was published for 2004 to 2014.

    New Zealand Dotterel Recovery Plan, 2004-2014 (PDF, 215K)

    The plan lists the goals that are required to bring about an increase in the population, and to ensure this population is self-sustaining. Predator control, community involvement and research are key components of this plan.

    Management recommendations for the Southern New Zealand dotterel species include research into alternative sustainable predator control options, and an annual population census.

    For the Northern New Zealand dotterel, recommendations include establishing management programmes on selected West Coast sites, continue with or expand management units at existing/new sites, undertaking monitoring and a national census, and actively submit against planning applications that will impact on nesting sites with a given criteria.

    Community involvement is an important part of the recovery programme, and vital to the long-term conservation of the New Zealand dotterel. The plan aims to build on community partnerships that have already evolved, with a view towards promotion, coordination and support of at least 15% of the northern subspecies by 2014.

    As a result of research undertaken from the first plan, the North Island population is now known to include at least two sub-populations – continuing research into identifying additional sub-populations is recommended, as is further research into predator control.

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