The Department of Conservation is urging people to give dotterels a little privacy as they move from their courtship phase into family mode.
New Zealand dotterels are plump little grey and white coastal birds who produce gorgeous little chicks, the size of golf balls, which resemble fluffy pom-poms with legs.
NZ dotterel chick But according to DOC’s Community Relations Manager in Kaitaia, Carolyn Smith, life isn’t easy for dotterel families.
“Dotterels nest just above the high tide mark in little scrapes of sand. Their eggs are small and speckled to camouflage them in the sand. This makes it very hard for people to see them when walking or driving along the coast,” explains Ms Smith.
So community volunteers and DOC staff are helping to give dotterels a better chance by erecting fences and putting signs up around nesting sites, to let people know that there are dotterels present with eggs or chicks.
NZ dotterel and chick
Due to New Zealand naturally being a country without mammals, (aside from bats) dotterels only threat was from other birds. When they feel threatened, dotterels will try to distract the ‘enemy’ from their nest by pretending to have a broken wing. The chicks and birds will also freeze so they are harder to spot.
“Great if the enemy is a bird of prey. Not so good if it’s a stoat, cat or dog,” says Ms Smith. “All this adds up to a very hard landscape for dotterels to breed successfully in.”
A newly established coast care group at Rarawa Beach has set up a stoat trapping programme to help the vulnerable birds. Ms Smith acknowledges community effort like theirs as a major factor in helping dotterels to maintain their lessening grip on coastal life.
NZ dotterel eggs in nest
“Like our kiwi, NZ dotterels are also in decline and classified as a threatened species. By avoiding walking or driving in nesting sites, we can help them rear their chicks to adult-hood successfully. And also stay below high tide when driving, as we don’t always locate every nest,” Ms Smith says.
Keeping dogs on a leash when walking along parts of the beach where dotterels live is also advised.
“Dogs often like to chase dotterels, and can frighten them into abandoning their nests and leaving chicks alone and vulnerable,” says Ms Smith.
The Far North has dotterels living on both the East and West coast. According to DOC, more and more local people are becoming involved in helping dotterels, including schools.
“Ngataki School created a fabulous sign for Rarawa Beach with information on how to keep dotterels safe, and there are people at Ahipara helping too. Hopefully with everyone’s support, NZ dotterel populations in the Far North will begin growing instead of declining,” says Ms Smith.