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Protecting at-risk birds from summer visitors

Sometimes it is best not to even leave footprints behind.

East coast beaches are a favoured location at this time of year for both visitors and for the northern New Zealand dotterel/tuturiwhatu.

But because the NZ dotterel lays its eggs in shallow scrapes in the sand, it is highly vulnerable.

From August and September, the birds lay three eggs which hatch about a month later. The birds remain at their breeding sites until late summer before they congregate in post-breeding flocks at favoured estuaries.

The summer holiday season is when the NZ dotterel is at its most vulnerable.

Black-backed gulls, hawks, hedgehogs, stoats, cats and rats are common predators — but in the Gisborne/East Coast region, beach-goers, dogs, and sea-side quadbike users are among the greatest threats to the New Zealand native.

The NZ dotterel is a small bird but its protective behaviour is distinctive.

To steer intruders away from nests and chicks, NZ dotterels use distraction displays such as dragging a wing as if it is broken.

Small chicks crouch and freeze when danger threatens.

The dotterel's common call is described as a sharp chip. The call indicates alertness. A high-pitched tseep is used to warn chicks to stay hidden. A long rattling churr is used when chasing intruders.

A sharp werr-wit is used during territory boundary disputes.

The Department of Conservation's NZ Dotterel Recovery Plan which aims to bring about an increase in the population, has had some success. Community involvement is an important part of the recovery programme and can be as simple as leaving dotterels alone.

If you see a dotterel, move away from the area quickly.

VULNERABLE ON OUR BEACHES: The unnamed photographer who supplied The Gisborne Herald with this image took the picture from a long way away. Hopefully the picture of the NZ dotterel and the chick huddling close for protection underlines the vulnerability of this at-risk native bird. Picture supplied