The New Zealand dotterel. Unfortunately another New Zealand bird threatened with extinction.
Dotterels, also commonly called plovers, are members of a group of shoreline wading birds widely distributed around the world. They are characterized by having short bills and feed using sight rather than the sense of feel or vibration, which many other shoreline birds use to find their prey.
Two species are present in New Zealand: the northern New Zealand dotterel (Charadrius obscurus obscurus) and the southern New Zealand dotterel (Charadrius obscurus aquilonius). These small birds are well-camouflaged. Pale grey in color with white or rust-colored underbellies,they blend in markedly well with the sandy areas in which they are commonly found.
Dotterels return to the same breeding site every year and lay their eggs in a scrape of sand or amongst driftwood and shells usually just above the high tide mark. Laying their eggs in the open makes the eggs and chicks particularly vulnerable to predators including cats, stoats and hedgehogs. Abnormally high tides also sometimes take the eggs. Beach goers and dogs also often disturb the eggs or nesting areas.
What does a dotterel sound like? A sharp chip is often heard before the bird is seen indicating its awareness of an intruder’s presence. Chicks are particularly vulnerable to predators and when threatened, the mother gives a high-pitched tseep warning the chicks to remain motionless and hidden. A long rattling churr is used when chasing intruders, and finally a sharp werr-wit is used during territorial disputes. (1)
Unfotunately, at last count as of 2011, there were only around 2175 northern dotterels left, and 250 southern dotterels, the latter being found only on relatively isolated Stewart Island.
A 45-minute drive from where we live is appropriately named Dotterel Point Reserve at Pukehina Beach. Before we happened upon this spot, I wasn’t aware of the dotterels plight.
The dotterels nest at the end of a narrow spit of beach with the ocean on one side and an estuary on the other. It often takes a moment to pick them out against the sand background.
Other shoreline birds share the area with the dotterels. The tide was going out at the time we were there and all the birds were pecking away at the freshly-exposed estuary sand.
Hopefully, the dotterel is on its way to recovery.