The New Zealand dotterel

What have a threatened New Zealand bird species and a hard rock gold mine got in common?

The New Zealand dotterel is a threatened (Category B) species endemic to New Zealand. The population consists of two small groups, one in the North Island and the other on Stewart Island. The total population is around 1700 – 2000 individuals. The preferred environment of these birds is sandy beaches, usually near river mouths where food is plentiful. Dotterels eat a wide variety of food, most of which is found in the intertidal area.

The decline of the New Zealand dotterel is due to several factors, but in particular, introduced predators such as cats, stoats and ferrets. Because their nesting areas are popular with beach goers, many dotterel nests also get trampled by people, dogs, and trail bikes.

New Zealand dotterels at Waihi

New Zealand dotterels have been attracted to Waihi’s tailings storage areas to nest. In recent years nesting pairs have been found. During winter dotterels can be seen at the tailings storage areas searching for suitable nest sites for the breeding season. In summer nests are often located.

Nests in active construction zones have had eggs removed by specialists in the field and put into incubation with other New Zealand dotterel eggs as part of a captive breeding programme.

New Zealand dotterel - Charadrius obscurus Photo © Chris Gin / Wikipedia.

The broken wing act

If a predator comes too close to a dotterel nest the sitting adult will try to draw the predator away from the nest by feigning a broken wing. Once the predator is some distance from the nest, the dotterel will fly back to sit on the eggs.


The NZ DotterelWatch Partnership was an initiative with the Department of Conservation (DoC) and Waihi Gold, focused on assisting the survival of the threatened NZ dotterel.

It started in 1995 when workers at the Martha Mine observed dotterels nesting on the waste rock embankment’s haul road. Since its inception, we  provided DoC funding and a vehicle. DoC uses the funding to provide a ranger who oversees an education programme, assisted by volunteer minders who keep an eye on dotterel breeding sites throughout Coromandel Peninsula beaches. The funding also assisted in the provision of signage to alert the public and raise awareness of the plight of the NZ dotterel. The annual cost of the programme was around $45,000 per year.