Dead dotterels washing up on Auckland's east coast shoreline

There are four dead northern New Zealand dotterels in a freezer in Tāwharanui Regional Park.

All were found washed up on the sands of Tāwharanui on Monday morning.

"This is the first time this has ever happened while I've been working in the park. Not four in one go," Alison Stanes said.

Stanes has been working with the birds at the Tāwharanui Open Sanctuary for more than 20 years.

The dotterels are in plastic bags, labelled with their likely cause of death, and frozen to preserve for autopsy.

Laying out the bags, each containing the remains of one of the country's rarest birds, Stanes' eyes welled up.

"Just a very very high wind that they weren't prepared for. Knocked out of the sky," she said.

"This is the little one who's oldest of all. She's 18 years old and I've known her here for 18 years. Mmm very sad. All lost in one storm."

There are just 2500 northern New Zealand dotterel left.

Stanes is one of around a hundred volunteers monitoring their nesting sites in Auckland.

She said climate change is obvious on the east coast, where more storms are regularly killing birds and taking out the dunes they nest on.

"The local storm that hit just at the end of October has taken out eight nests here," she said.

Dotterels typically nest on what's known as working sand dunes. They don't have a steep gradient, which allows the nesting birds to dart up and down with food for their chicks. But storms are changing that.

In Tāwharanui Regional Park volunteers say strong winds and heavy rains are causing the dunes to collapse, burying nests, sometimes with freshly hatched chicks still inside.

The nests that are left sit on the cliff-like remains of the dunes.

"The nest we've just seen is in a very precarious position," Stanes told Newshub.

"The working sand dunes aren't working now because too many storms hit too frequently."

Storms this breeding season have taken out nests all along the east coast north of Auckland. Snells Beach, Shakespear Regional Park and Tāwharanui Peninsula are all reporting losses.

In Omaha, things are no different.

"We've lost over 20 eggs from various nests [since September]."

Sue Cook volunteers for the Omaha Shorebird Protection Trust.

She said storms are wreaking havoc, and house pets like cats are only making matters worse.

"At least seven (bodies) that I've found, and one day last week one of our volunteers just found a pair of wings and two legs."

The pressures of the coast are now proving too much.

Senior conservation advisor for Auckland Council, Ben Paris, believes at least 13 percent of all northern NZ dotterels have moved inland to nest this season.

Among them are some chicks that have found sanctuary in an industrial site in Albany, kilometres away from the beach.

"We're finding dotterels are moving into these non-beach sites," said Paris, pointing at the dotterels now weaving through some high-viz netting.

"Commercial areas, construction zones, school fields. It's just because there's so much pressure on their habitat that they're having to move into other areas that aren't necessarily better than their usual ones."

Between climate change, crumbling dunes and rogue pets that aren't kept in at night, there are renewed fears one of our rarest birds is once again in serious danger.

"As nests get wiped out and the birds aren't producing more chicks, it becomes less sustainable," Stanes said.