NZ dotterel chicks and egg
Image: Mithuna Sorieson | DOC

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


With shorebirds now nesting on beaches across the East Coast, DOC and Gisborne District Council is urging campers and other beachgoers to be wary of our little winged friends.

Date:  10 December 2020

DOC Biodiversity Ranger Jamie Quirk says New Zealand dotterel, banded dotterel and variable oystercatcher nesting sites in this region are in coastal areas, around rivers and streambeds from Hicks Bay to Mahia.

“New Zealand dotterel with chicks are currently nesting at a number of places. At  Turihaua beach there has been some disturbance by people as the nests are close to the mouth of the Turihaua stream.   

“We want people to avoid nesting sites, give them space and keep an eye on dogs,” says Jamie Quirk.

Gisborne District Council Summer and Freedom Camping Compliance Officer, Michelle Lexmond says they are working jointly with DOC to help educate people about their behaviours.

“One of the biggest issues is trailbikes and speeding vehicles on beaches which cause long lasting damage to our fragile ecosystems and nesting shorebirds.

“We are updating our camping signage to request people keep off the dunes and a radio campaign promoting improved behaviours” says Michelle Lexmond.

New Zealand dotterel will nest anywhere from the high tide mark to the base of dunes or on riverbeds. They lay two or three eggs in nests which are well camouflaged and can be easily crushed by unsuspecting beach users. Variable oystercatchers breed in pairs and lay two to three eggs in nests which are usually simple scrapes in the sand.

You can help in the protection of shorebirds by keeping:

  • below the high tide mark
  • noise to a minimum
  • distance from the nests
  • to marked tracks and paths wherever possible
  • dogs on a leash
  • vehicles off beaches and sandspits.

Fishers can further reduce their impact on the environment by being sure to take old fishing line home with them for safe disposal.

Jamie Quirk says these are small and effective measures to give these birds a fighting chance this breeding season.

 “We are pleased to be continuing to work with the Council in the recovery and the long-term conservation of the NZ dotterel and other shorebirds.”

Background information

  • 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.
  • NZ dotterels are usually found on sandy beaches and sandspits or feeding on tidal estuaries.
  • NZ dotterel (Tuturiwhatu pukunui) are mostly pale-grey on the back, with off-white underparts which become flushed with rusty-orange in winter and spring. They have a prominent head, large dark-brown eyes and a strong black bill.
  • Banded dotterel (Charadrius bicinctus) have a narrow black band on the neck and a wide chestnut band on the breast during the breeding season.
  • Their camouflage colours make them difficult to see when standing still, but their habit of running quickly and pausing to feed makes them easy to identify. Their 'chip-chip' call is often heard before they are seen.
  • Variable oystercatcher (Haematopus unicolor) is a large heavy-built shorebird. Adults have black underparts which vary from all black through a range of ‘smudgy’ intermediate states to white.
  • Chicks fly at 6–7 weeks old and late chicks may not fledge until March. Chicks are vigorously protected by both parents, often well after fledging. Adults show high fidelity to their mate and the site.


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