Hawke’s Bay tūturiwhatu population doubles in a decade


A survey of coastal birds in Hawke’s Bay found a doubling of the New Zealand Dotterel, or tūturiwhatu, population in the area in a decade.

Photo: Supplied / LDR

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council commissioned a team, led by freelance birdwatcher Nikki McArthur, to walk Hawke’s Bay’s 200 miles of coastline and count how many birds they could see.

The survey was completed last year, but the data has only just been made public.

McArthur told RNZ that tūturiwhatu died out over Hawke’s Bay from the late 19th century.

“It was absent from Hawke’s Bay for about 100 years, but as a result of a whole lot of conservation management work done by the Department of Conservation and a number of community coastal care groups…this species has started to come back down the along the North Island coast,” he said.

“The first pair of birds appeared in 1990, on the Māhia Peninsula, then in 2011, a survey during that year found 86 birds in Hawke’s Bay and up to the Eastern Cape. But when we conducted our survey in 2021, found us 222 of these tūturiwhatu along the Hawke’s Bay coast, so the number has more than doubled in the last 10 years, which is just a phenomenal recovery for this which was a locally extinct species at Hawke’s Bay.”

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

“The last time anyone went there to do a bird survey was in the late 1980s – early 1990s and a very small population of tītī or shooter shearwaters clung to the island at this point. They estimated that there were about five breeding pairs, so a very, very small population.

“When we went there, we were very pessimistic about our chances of finding a tītī there now, after so long and considering how few birds there were 40 years ago, so we were surprised and delighted to find a pair on the island in a burrow, confirming that the species still occurs on the island.”

But there were still concerns about some species – particularly the reef heron or matuku moana.

McArthur said they only counted 16 of Hawke’s Bay’s 200 miles of coastline.

“That’s a lot less than we expected, and obviously a very, very low population for this particular species.”

He said it was probably due to predatory mammals and the birds are shy in nature and therefore do not like to be disturbed.

“If people want to do something to help conserve birds, an easy thing to do is just give them space when you’re on the beach to swim, walk or fish.”

Becky Shanahan, the regional council’s senior marine and coastal scientist, said the council was responsible for protecting the environment in which the birds lived, such as the Ahuriri Estuary in Napier.

“Our goal at the council is to really invest in programs like the erosion control program and things like that, which start to limit the sediment coming into the estuary so that the wildlife that lives in the sediment is in makes for a pretty healthy and diverse group of animals.”


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