Sharing the beach with the NZ dotterel

Katrina Knill —  06/01/2010

Whilst many folk are doing their best to be seen on our beaches this summer, some of our more secretive residents are struggling with the crowds.

I’m talking about the NZ dotterel (tuturiwhatu) which nest in sand scrapes on many of our North Island beaches.

NZ dotterel sitting on a simple sand-scrape nest

These birds and their nests are well camouflaged and often invisible to the untrained eye, leaving them vulnerable to disturbance by unwary beachgoers, their dogs and vehicles.

Today I’ve had a report from a member of the public about people walking through the fenced off nesting site at Matakana to relieve themselves and to sit in the sun.

It’s true that sometimes the birds choose to nest in places that are inconvenient to beach users, but in the scheme of things, I’d suggest that the inconvenience of having to walk an extra 100m is a small price to pay for the survival of this species which numbers just 1700 individuals in NZ (and the world!)

A tiny, very sand coloured dotterel chick is easy to miss

and the results can be devastating – this chick was crushed by an unwary motorist

When dotterel adults are disturbed off the nest while incubating, the eggs are at risk of overheating. Young chicks, when disturbed, can die from exhaustion as they cannot eat in time, or get to their feeding grounds at the water’s edge.

Here in Tauranga we have major dotterel nesting sites on Matakana Island and Maketu spit that are protected through the efforts of Ranger Witana and the Port of Tauranga at Matakana and community volunteers at Maketu whom control predators, monitor breeding success and fence off the nesting areas in an effort to protect them from being disturbed.

Birds bred at Matakana last year have recently been seen at beaches around the Coromandel and East Cape.

So as you enjoy the beach this summer, please spare a thought for the shy locals (even if you can’t see them) and give them a little space.

For more information about NZ dotterel, please visit our website.

Blending in with the driftwood

Katrina Knill


I work for DOCs Tauranga Office, where I co-ordinate our public liaison efforts with stakeholders & the general public. I get to work with our staff and community groups as well as helping out in emergencies such as forest fires, whale strandings and dealing with injured birds, seals etc.

5 responses to Sharing the beach with the NZ dotterel

    Frances Eden Hall 04/05/2010 at 6:08 pm

    Visit to read the truth about the birds, their roosting areas and foraging areas and the proposed destruction of habitat, should the proposed marina be approved.

      Frances Eden Hall 15/09/2010 at 5:01 pm

      Isn’t it GREAT!! Rodney District Council listened to the people of our estuary and have said NO to the proposed marina at Sandspit. Brickbats to ARC commissioners who said yes because they believed the environmental company, advocates for the marina, before they believed the hard evidence of the locals. But, now, we can preserve the last high-tide roosting beach in our estuary for the wading birds and protect the whole estuary for our 22 species of water reliant birds. PEOPLE POWER!!

    Frances Eden Hall 03/05/2010 at 5:55 pm

    Obviously DOC has not read the detailed ecology report or seen the Power Point presentation, both presented on 30April, by me, which makes the above comments utter nonsense!Is DOC not aware of Sandspit hosting 6 Nationally vulnerable species? I am shocked that DOC does not know that the VERY LAST available roosting beach will be destroyed by this horrendous development. Anyone who supports such another development, stuffing up yet one more estuary can only be calleda conversationist NOT a conservationist. Miranda Naturalists’ Trust supports us and says the estuary should not be touched.I suggest that everyone looks at our website. Copies of the ecology report, on the birds ,are available from me at

    Liz Maire, Warkworth DOC 03/05/2010 at 1:31 pm

    It is great that there are local people at Sandspit taking an interest in the wildlife in this area. DOC recognise that the proposed marina will have some effects on the area, however we also recognise that it is already modified & the Environmental Impact Assessment from the applicant addressed these points. From our observations, shorebirds & waders (including Godwits, in low numbers) use the entire estuary, & the area to be modified by the proposal is one small part of this. In our view, if undertaken as per the proposal, this is not a marina that will have a major impact on wildlife values in the area.

    Frances Eden Hall 23/04/2010 at 1:03 pm

    NZ Dotterels were seen in Breeding plumage and photographed(1992) at Sandspit, Matakana Estuary near Warkworth. Currently a much closer watch is being kept on the foraging NZ Dotts at Sandspit because of the proposed marina being possibly contructed over their foraging grounds. If we can defeat said proposal then the community will back conservation efforts for this treasure. Thanks for your efforts.