Hawke's Bay dotterel population doubles over a decade

Hawke's Bay dotterel population doubles over a decade
Photo credit: Getty Images

By Tom Kitchin for RNZ

A survey on coastal birds in Hawke's Bay has found a doubling of the population of New Zealand dotterel, or tūturiwhatu, in the region over a decade.

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council commissioned a team, led by independent ornithologist Nikki McArthur, to walk the 320km of Hawke's Bay coastline and count the number of birds they could see.

The survey was completed last year, but the data has only just been publicly released.

McArthur told RNZ tūturiwhatu became extinct over Hawke's Bay from the late 19th century.

"It was absent from Hawke's Bay for about 100 years, but following a whole lot of conservation management work that the Department of Conservation and a number of community coast care groups have done ... this species has started moving back down the North Island coastline," he said.

"The first couple of birds turned up in 1990, on Māhia Peninsula, and then by 2011, a survey that was done during that year found 86 birds in Hawke's Bay and up the East Cape. But when we did our survey in 2021, we found 222 of these tūturiwhatu along the Hawke's Bay coastline, so numbers had more than doubled in the past 10 years, which is just a phenomenal recovery for what was a locally extinct species in Hawke's Bay."

McArthur was also excited about what his team found on Te Motu-o-Kura/Bare Island, just off the coast of Waimarama Beach, south of Napier and Hastings.

"The last time anyone went out there to do a bird survey was the late 1980s - early 1990s and a very small population of tītī or shooty shearwaters were hanging on on the island at that stage.They estimated there were around five breeding pairs, so a very very small population.

"When we went out there we were very pessimistic about our chances of finding any tītī there now, after such a long time had elapsed and given how few birds there were there 40 years ago, so we were astounded and pretty overjoyed to find a pair on the island in a burrow, confirming that species is still present on the island."

But there were still concerns over some species - especially the reef heron or matuku moana.

McArthur said they only counted 16 over the 320km of Hawke's Bay coastline.

"That's a lot fewer than we expected to see, and obviously a very very low population for that particular species."

He said that was likely down to mammalian predators, and the birds are shy in nature so do not like being disturbed.

"If people want to do something to help conserve birds, an easy thing to do is just to give them space when you're down on the beach swimming, walking or fishing."

Regional council senior marine and coast scientist Becky Shanahan said the council was responsible for protecting the environment the birds lived in, such as the Ahuriri Estuary in Napier.

"Our focus at the council is to really invest in programmes like the erosion control scheme and things like that, that start to limit the sediment coming in to the estuary so the fauna that lives in the sediment is actually quite a healthy, diverse group of animals."