Protecting NZ Dotterels & Other Beach Nesting Birds

New Zealand dotterels, tuturiwhatu, are an endangered beach nesting bird, with an estimated population of 2500. They are endemic to the north island of New Zealand and face many threats. Nesting sites exist all the way along Northland’s West coast. In the Kauri Coast area the Waipoua River mouth has the largest colony of 6-7 breeding pairs. Alongside other community groups and local volunteers WFT is maintaining and expanding trap lines, signage and protective fencing at this site to help dotterels & oystercatchers have successful breeding seasons.

what are dotterels?

Dotterels are small birds with pale grey and brown on their head, back and wings. When they stand still their colours make them difficult to see against the sand, but their habit of running quickly and pausing to feed makes them easier to spot. During the breeding season their white bellies flush rusty orange. 

Often you will hear their call – a high pitched ‘chip chip’ – before you see them. When these little birds make this loud call, they are calling out to you to let you know that they have seen you. Dotterels call and run to lead predators away from their nests. Adults will also try distraction techniques like pretending to have a broken wing so that predators are drawn to them rather than their chicks. When the adults are away from the nest, eggs and chicks are left vulnerable to real predators and the elements. Therefore chick survival depends on nesting sites being undisturbed.

Dotterels feed along the high tide line, and chicks take around 5 weeks to learn to fly. If chicks spend a lot of time hiding from perceived predators, this can delay the time it takes for a chick to start flying putting them more at risk of being preyed upon.


New Zealand dotterels, or tuturiwhatu, are found only in the North Island. Dotterels live along the coast close to river mouths. When breeding begins around August, the dotterels stay at their chosen river mouth for up to 8 months. This is the best place for starting a family because when a chick hatches (after 28 days) it must stand up and start feeding itself straight away. 

Kauri Coast Dotterel Watch monitors nesting sites along the coast from Maunganui Bluff to Waimamaku Beach.  More local help is needed at these smaller sites that are harder to access. 

our work

Dotterel and oystercatcher nests are nothing more than a scrape in the sand, and are therefore particularly vulnerable to being walked on or driven over. Part of our work is to find the nesting sites and put up signage and fencing to prevent people from getting too close.   

Unfortunately the nests are preyed upon by stoats, weasels, ferrets, hedgehogs, rats, cats, dogs, pigs and possums.  We have local support from Kaitiaki Kiwi and Te Roroa to carry out pest control around the nesting sites and hope to further expand these operations in the future. 

Another aspect of our work is to engage local communities in becoming kaitiaki (guardians) of the dotterels through education and volunteer opportunities.

Keep up with Kauri Coast Dotterel Watch on Facebook

Help us protect this endangered species