29 Aug 2018

Kiwi ingenuity helping to boost dotterel numbers

10:21 am on 29 August 2018

Banded Dotterel breeding season is about to get under way and conservationists are deploying new tactics to protect the threatened species.

While there isn't an accurate dotterel count, experts estimate there has been more than a 60 percent drop in numbers in the past five years.

And they are worried that trend will continue.

On the main beach in Kaikōura's South Bay, dotterel breeding season is getting under way.

Conservationist Ailsa Howard has taken on the task of looking after these birds, which she said were heading rapidly towards extinction.

"[There was] a large number of birds on the beach...and zero reproduction," she said.

"I called it the empty nest syndrome."

Dotterel breeding season is getting under way.

Dotterel breeding season is getting under way. Photo: Supplied

Using materials lying around her house, and with some funding from Fish and Game, Ms Howard built mesh cages as a way to protect the birds from predators.

This approach has not been used with dotterels before.

Ms Howard first trialed this late in last year's breeding season and she said it had a drastic impact.

"Instead of having zero productivity, we had at lest one chick from every caged nest," she said.

After several reiterations of the initial design, Ms Howard is now deploying these cages across many of the nests she finds on the beach as breeding season begins.

The idea is being picked up by others in the South Island.

Ms Howard built mesh cages as a way to protect the birds from predators.

Ms Howard built mesh cages as a way to protect the birds from predators. Photo: Supplied

DOC ranger Allanah Purdie is trying a similar approach in Kaitorete, covering eight nests with cages and monitoring how they go by setting up hidden cameras.

"They are just big enough to fit a banded dotterel out the side," she said.

"What they are really used for is interrupt the ambushing behavior from predators to allow the adult dotterel to get away in time."

But she said the biggest risk these birds face was from humans.

"Currently with the nests out at Kaitorete one of our biggest problems are motorbikes, quads and four wheel drives," she said.

"They're not actually allowed in the dune system at all, but it seems to be a popular place for people to run over dotterel nests."

Ms Purdie said the best way people can help is by making sure they stay away from nests when they see them.