Topic: Northern New Zealand Dotterel

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Northern New Zealand Dotterel also known as the Red Breasted Dotterel or Tuturiwhatu pukunui has the 2008 National Threat Category of Nationally Vulnerable.


Northern New Zealand Dotterel

(Charadrius obscurus aquilonius)

The Northern New Zealand Dotterel has a stout breast that turns a rusty red when the birds are prospecting and breeding. This fine chest is supported by relatively delicate legs . The Northern New Zealand Dotterel can often be seen along the shores of Te Arai, with around eight or nine pairs nesting on the beach. In the 2010 - 2011 season alone 20 chicks were sucessfully reared .The same adults return to nest each year but their young find other locations when old enough to breed.

The birds habit of running with rapid short strides makes it appear to be scurrying over the sand. They are very sensitive to disturbance and this behaviour is often accompanied by a short and high pitched peep voiced in alarm.

The Northern New Zealand Dotterel also has a characteristic broken wing display . The adult bird will feign an injury to lure intruders toward it and away from their nests or young chicks. Eggs in nests are vulnerable to over heating or cooling if the parent is away too long distracting intruders.

Range and Habitat

This species is restricted to the Northern half of the North Island. Northern New Zealand Dotterels breed on the predominately on the east coast beaches, and especially near stream mouths, of Northland, Auckland, South Auckland, and the Bay of Plenty.  Recently they have colonised the Gisborne and northern Hawkes Bay coast (Heather and Robertson 2005). 


Breeding from August through to March.  Nests are small scrapes in the sand, these birds can have up to three eggs per clutch and will have multiple clutches if the first nests are raided or taken by the tide. Eggs take around 28 days to hatch. Feeds predominantly on small crabs and insects found in the wet sand. Juveniles fledge(can fly) after 6 - 7 weeks.  Adult birds will pair and mate after 18 months.


Residential communities along the coast have brought habitat loss(trampling and weeds), introduced predators and visitor disturbance to dotterel habitats. Their numbers dropped so low that they have become a threatened species. Their numbers have begun to rise again in response to management of sites like Te Arai. Volunteers in partnership with DoC and Councils undertake temporary fencing, monitoring, predator control and awareness raising to help re-establish viable populations.


NNZ Dotterel chicks are expertly camouflaged and are chiefly spotted from the air by their movement.  In response to this the parent birds have a special call when they spot a threat.  The call triggers the chick to freeze on the spot until a release call is made.  This freeze mechanism however makes the chicks even more vulnerable to the hunting strategies of introduced predators such as dogs, rats, ferrets, and cats. It also makes the chick defenseless against vehicles, foot traffic and horses. Dotterel chicks must feed themselves from day one and need sufficent undisturbed time to feed. Too much time in freeze mode and they die of starvation. Conservation management practices are now required at NNZ dotterel breeding sites to enable sufficient chicks to be sucessfully raised. If you would like to help at Te Arai contact Chris Wild 094315313.

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