It has been a successful summer so far for Northland's endangered seabirds, including the fairy tern/tara iti and Northern NZ dotterel/tūturiwhatu, with several dotterel chicks being sighted along Waipū, Ruakākā, Mangawhai, Ninety Mile and Matapōuri beaches.

"The breeding season has been good for most of the region because the weather has been settled," Department of Conservation's biodiversity ranger Ayla Wiles said.

Wiles said while the biggest groups of dotterel are nesting around the Waipū and Ruakākā area, they could be seen around various beaches across Northland.

The endemic seabird was once widespread throughout New Zealand however, due to habitat loss, their numbers have dropped to about 2000 birds.

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The Northern NZ dotterel that lives in the North Island has recently moved from critically threatened to "at risk/recovering" in the national Threat Classification System, whereas the Southern NZ dotterel remains "threatened".

Breeding success of Northern New Zealand dotterels is usually low at unmanaged sites.
Breeding success of Northern New Zealand dotterels is usually low at unmanaged sites.

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At Matapōuri, local residents have taken it into their own hands to ensure the tiny dotterel chicks won't be disturbed by beach visitors and have stuck sticks in the sand around the nests creating a little fence for the fragile birds.

Wiles said on busy beaches like Matapōuri it was important to remain cautious, keep dogs under control and only to launch boats from designated areas to protect the wildlife.

"If you see dotterel nesting on the beach, it's good to give them space," she said.

Tūturiwhatu nest in open sites, typically low-lying sand or gravel banks close to beaches and can be easily overlooked by beach-goers.

Dotterel breed in monogamous pairs, and vigorously defend their territory against other birds.
Dotterel breed in monogamous pairs, and vigorously defend their territory against other birds.

Parents usually hatch two to three chicks at once, but when adults are disturbed while incubating, they tend to leave their nest leaving eggs at risk of overheating.

When young chicks get frightened, they can die from exhaustion as they cannot eat in time, or get to their feeding grounds at the water's edge.

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Next to humans and their pets, dotterel nests can be easily destroyed by strong storms or very high tides as they tend to stay close to the high tide mark.

Hedgehogs, stoats, cats and rats are the most common predators of eggs and chicks.

Wiles said the dotterel breeding season would go on until the end of March.

Their nests are simple scrapes in the sand, sometimes sparsely lined or decorated, often with a marker of driftwood or vegetation.
Their nests are simple scrapes in the sand, sometimes sparsely lined or decorated, often with a marker of driftwood or vegetation.

They then leave their breeding sites and congregate in post-breeding flocks at different estuaries, such as Mangawhai with around 150 birds or Waipū with 30-40 birds.

These flocks are socially important as dotterel which have lost partners during the breeding season can find new ones, and young birds pair for the first time.

On beaches, the dotterel are usually clustered around stream-mouths.
On beaches, the dotterel are usually clustered around stream-mouths.

Several fairy tern chicks also hatched at Mangawhai at the end of last year, adding to the critically endangered tara iti population.

Eight dotterel chicks also hatched at Ahipara in December.

How can I help?

Stay out of roped-off areas and follow the signs.

If you see a dotterel feigning injury (it may "drag" a wing as if it is broken), it has a nest or chicks nearby. Move away from the area quickly.

Leave nesting birds alone.

Take dogs only to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.

Put a bell on your cat's collar and feed it well.

Use available access ways to get to the beach.

Avoid leaving old fishing lines on beaches or in the sea.

Volunteer to control predators and restore bird habitats.

Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife.