Bird Watch – Curlew Sandpiper

 

 

The Curlew Sandpiper at Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere. Photo courtesy of Steve Attwood, Christchurch.

The Curlew Sandpiper at Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere. Photo courtesy of Steve Attwood, Christchurch.

The Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea), is a regular summer visitor to New Zealand – and to the shores of Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere – but you probably need to know your birds to spot them, as they often mingle with wrybill flocks.

Curlew sandpipers breed in the high Arctic regions of Siberia and Alaska; and their preferred non-breeding grounds are on rivers and lakes as far south as South Africa and Australasia. In New Zealand they inhabit a wide territory from the harbours and estuaries of Parengarenga in the Far North to Awarua Bay in Southland. Their preferred New Zealand strongholds though, are now in Manukau Harbour and Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere.

Despite this wide spread of habitat, curlew sandpiper numbers are thought to be in declining in the Asian-Australasian flyways and probably fewer than 40 birds have reached New Zealand each summer since 2000.

The birds usually arrive in New Zealand in September and October and are one of the last wader species to leave in April-May. They are the only medium-to-small wader in our region with the distinctive down-curved bill, which is long compared to its body size.

The birds prefer foraging in the wet, soft mud of tidal retreats, looking for worms, bivalves, crustacean and sometimes seeds and insects. This is where they ‘summer-over’, building up their fat reserves for the long, non-stop migration back to their breeding grounds in the north.