Protecting migratory shorebirds

Department of Conservation —  12/06/2014

By Bruce McKinlay, Technical Advisor, Ecosystems and Species

DOC is engaging in bird conservation in China. Why you might ask?

Both the bar-tailed godwit and the red knot are declining. The best science we have shows that declines in both these, and other shorebird species, is due to habitat changes in the Yellow Sea, where they stopover on their migrations to and from the Arctic breeding grounds to refuel and gather food.

Red knot in plumage near the shore.

A lesser or red knot in breeding plumage

These birds are all part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which is one of seven flyways that circle our world. This flyway extends from Awarua Bay in the south of New Zealand to the North ***** in Alaska, and from as far west as Myanmar to Alaska in the east. It is one of the most significant biological features on the planet and it is in trouble.

Reclamation, pollution, and hunting are causing declines in the numbers of bird species of 5-9% per year. The most important driver of change is reclamation in the Yellow Sea, where research has shown a 35% loss of intertidal habitat area across six key areas since the early eighties.

A flock of red knots takes flight.

A flock of red knots takes flight

Protection of the New Zealand populations of bar-tailed godwits and lesser knots requires engagement with partners as far away as Russia and USA, but in particular China and North Korea.

New Zealand is a member of an international body seeking to guide governmental and non-governmental action to ensure that declines of migratory waterbird populations are reduced and that key habitat along the flyway are protected and where possible enhanced for the migratory birds.

A plump and pale male godwit.

A male godwit showing how fat they are before migrating to China

A key partner in this work is the Miranda Naturalists’ Trust who have a long and respected history as a passionate advocate for shorebirds.

DOC staff will be visiting China and North Korea along with the Miranda Naturalists’ Trust to to engage with governments and local organisations on how to work together to protect the habitat of these shorebirds.

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