Tips to help protect our shorebirds

Department of Conservation —  29/12/2022

Have you noticed more shorebird activity around our sandy beaches and rocky shores lately? Well, this is the season when shorebirds more regularly join us at some of our favourite coastal spots.

While we’re just visiting, taking the dog for a walk, sunbathing and swimming, or 4 wheel driving along our shores, our native shorebirds are making themselves homes, nesting and raising their young. This is a particularly vulnerable time for these birds as hidden and camouflaged nests easily go unnoticed – Nests are easily trampled or can be disturbed by dogs and vehicles.

So, here are four handy tips that you, your whānau, and friends can follow to help do your part in protecting some of our native shorebirds species.

Wrybill nesting.
📷: John Reid

1) Keep below the high-tide mark on the shore.

A really simple tip but also extremely important – Nest habitats vary slightly depending on the species, but all species nest above the high-tide mark (for obvious reasons). They are difficult to spot and usually consist of little more than a scrape in the sand. Keeping below the high-tide mark takes out all the risk of running your vehicle over a nest, trampling them on foot or having your dog disturb or destroy them.

Fairy tern on beach, sitting on eggs.
📷: Malcolm Pullman

2) Stay outside fenced off and signed areas

You might find that some areas around our shores are fenced off with local council or DOC signage. It’s fenced off to make people aware that shorebirds are nesting within that area and to keep out/ away to avoid any disturbance. This is an easy way that you can play your part in protecting these birds.

3) Keep dogs on leashes

When the beaches are empty and no one is around you might be tempted to let your dog off the leash and rome freely, leshing them up only around fenced off and signed areas. This might seem like a good idea but many birds breed outside of these areas and still require our protection. In this case, the onus is on dog walkers to make sure they are vigilant about where they exercise their dogs, adhering the the beach rules and times you can walk your dog. Even their presence within 200 metres of a nest can cause distress so its safer to keep them on a leash.

Dogs off lead at Muriwai Beach, Auckland
📷: DOC

4) Look out for bird behavioural signs.

Parents may display signs of a ‘broken wing’ and attempt to lure you away from the nest. This display is usually accompanied by loud ‘alarm’ calls to get your attention and some species will ‘dive-bomb’ intruders, flying low over your head. It’s best to retreat from the area until the birds stop reacting, watching carefully where you step.

Black-billed gull.
📷: Rod Morris