New Zealand dotterel conservation
The endangered New Zealand dotterel was once widespread and common. Now there are only about 1,700 birds left, making dotterels more at risk than some species of kiwi.
The impacts of coastal development on habitat, introduced predators and disturbance during breeding seasons are all factors in the drop in numbers.
Habitat loss and disturbance
New Zealand dotterel nest in open sites, typically low-lying sand or gravel banks and sandbars close to beaches and lagoons. Nests just above high tide mark are easily lost to strong storms and very high spring tides.
The birds often nest close to residential or developed areas. Their breeding habitats are at risk to development and subsequent erosion.
On the beach, nests are easily destroyed by careless feet, dogs and off-road vehicles. When adults are disturbed while incubating and leave the nest, the eggs are at risk of overheating. When young chicks are disturbed, they can die from exhaustion as they cannot eat in time, or get to their feeding grounds at the water’s edge.
Uncontrolled dogs running through nesting areas can crush eggs, disturb nesting adults, and kill chicks. Many beaches have dog restrictions and owners should be aware of these - respect and obey them.
Hedgehogs, stoats, cats and rats are the most common predators of eggs and chicks.
Hedgehogs are a major predator as they can move up to 2 kilometres in one night, eating eggs from nests along the way. Hedgehogs and stoats are controlled by trapping.
Cats and stoats also kill some adult birds, especially during the breeding season. Unfledged chicks are easy prey for cats. In some areas, live cat traps are used in the area surrounding prime breeding sites. These traps are checked regularly.
In some areas, other birds are threats. Black-backed gulls and harrier hawks are two common predators. An effective form of protection from birds of prey, is plastic buckets laid on their side and dug into the sand to form small caves that several chicks can hide in.
The NZ dotterel is now confined to two areas.
Southern NZ dotterel (C.o.obscurus)
A population of about 250 birds survives on Stewart Island and nests on mountain tops.
Northern NZ dotterel (C.o.aquilonius)
Found in suitable habitat from Taranaki northwards on the west coast, and from North Cape southwards along the east coast of Northland, Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula and Bay of Plenty, and as far south as Mahia Peninsula.
Within the Auckland and Northland regions, they nest on beaches including:
- Te Arai Stream
- Poutawa Stream
- Pakari River mouth
- Omaha Spit
- Papakanui Spit
- Beehive Island
- Gulf Harbour
- The Wade River mouth
- Beaches south of Auckland city
- Waiheke and Great Barrier islands
On the Coromandel peninsula their major breeding sites are Opoutere Beach, Matarangi and Pauanui. They also nest on the waste rock embankment at Newmont Waihi Gold’s Martha Mine in Waihi and the Lakes Resort Golf Course near Pauanui.
They can also be found at Onemana, Whangamata, Whiritoa, as well as rocky beaches on the Thames Coast.
In late summer, the birds leave their breeding sites and congregate in post-breeding flocks at favoured estuaries. These flocks are socially important; birds which have lost partners during the breeding season can find new ones, and young birds pair for the first time.
Some areas where these flocks occur are at Mangawhai (150 birds), Waipu (30-40 birds), Omaha (70-80 birds), Tapora (40-45 birds), Wade River (20-25 birds), and Whangapoua Estuary on Great Barrier (40-50 birds).
Did you know?
New Zealand dotterel will fake an injury to draw intruders away from their nest.
Wardens at key sites
At key sites, DOC wardens inform the public of nesting areas, that are also roped off and sign posted.
DOC staff and volunteers participate in predator control and regularly check traps during the nesting season.
NZ Dotterel Recovery Plan
In 1993, DOC published a national recovery plan for the NZ dotterel. This plan was reviewed and a new national recovery plan is now in place, covering the period 2004 - 2014.
This 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 NZ dotterel species include research into alternative sustainable predator control options, and an annual population census.
For the northern subspecies, 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 NZ 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.
Matakana Island dotterel project
Matakana Island has become the home of an excellent dotterel breeding programme due to its innovative community approach.
Find out more about the Matakana Island dotterel project.
You can help
Around Northland, survival of the New Zealand dotterel is mainly thanks to individuals and community groups. Get involved by contacting the Bay of Islands office.
In the Auckland region you can support the Omaha Shorebird Protection Trust.
For other areas, contact your local DOC office.
When visiting dotterel areas
- Stay out of roped-off areas and follow the signs.
- Keep dogs and vehicles off beaches and sandspits.
- If you see a NZ dotterel feigning injury (it may ‘drag’ a wing as if it is broken), it has a nest or chicks nearby. Move away from the area quickly.
Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife.
Help protect our native birds
When visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
- Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
- Check for pests when visiting pest-free islands.
- Leave nesting birds alone.
- Use available access ways to get to the beach.
- Avoid leaving old fishing lines on beaches or in the sea.
- Follow the water care code and local navigation bylaws.
- Don't drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.
Other ways to help
- Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
- Volunteer to control predators and restore bird habitats.
- Set predator traps on your property.
- Put a bell on your cat's collar and feed it well.