Bird Watch – Wrybill

 

 

Wrybill. Photograph copyright Steve Attwood, Christchurch

Wrybill. Photograph copyright Steve Attwood, Christchurch.

The wrybill, or ngutu parore in Māori, (Anarhynchus frontalis), is a member of the plover family endemic to New Zealand. It breeds on the braided rivers of the South Island and it is the only bird in the world with a curved bill – which always curves to the right. It uses this to reach insect larvae hiding under the rounded riverbed stones.

You’ll find wrybill at Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere from time to time too. If you’ve got keen eyes that is because they’re masters of disguise. Their grey/white feathers give them perfect camouflage on stony river beds or against sandy banks and they lay eggs that look like stones.

This plump, quirky little bird has a status of nationally vulnerable. Their numbers have reduced – possibly because of human encroachment into their preferred breeding environments and land intensification near river systems – and the population now sits around 4,500-5000. They have had protected status since 1940. Around 15% of New Zealand’s wrybills live in Southland’s Mackenzie Country.

The birds nest on the inland shingle riverbeds of the eastern South Island from August through to January. They usually lay two grey-blue speckled eggs that are well camouflaged among river stones; and if disturbed they often pretend a wing injury to distract predators away from their nests.

The wrybill is an internal migrant and after breeding, almost the entire population migrates to the warmer harbours of the North Island, especially the Firth of Thames and Manukau Harbour. They can live for up to sixteen years.