Bird Watch – Banded dotterel


The banded dotterel. Photo courtesy of Christchurch photographer, Steve Attwood.

The banded dotterel.

The protected banded dotterel is the most numerous of the dotterel species and the smallest member of the plover family in New Zealand. It is most common in inland Canterbury and in the Mackenzie Basin.Known as a fast mover, it darts across beaches and mudflats and is easily identified by its breeding colours – a narrow, dark band on its neck and a wide chestnut band on its breast. Its back and wings are fawn. It is a small, compact bird (18cm) with a short, black bill, long dark legs and large round dark eyes.

From the family Charadriidae and known as tūturiwhatu in Māori, the banded dotterel is on the nationally vulnerable list. The total New Zealand population is estimated to be around 50,000 but declining numbers are attributed to changing habitats and predators such as feral cats, ferrets, stoats, weasels, hedgehogs and rats.

Banded dotterel pairs are solitary and territorial but there can often be a large concentration of birds where the habitat is favourable. Their first eggs are laid from early August through to November, usually in shallow, scraped out nests lined with tiny stones or shell scraps.

Banded dotterel eggs. Photo courtesy of Steve Attwood, Christchurch.

Banded dotterel eggs. Photos courtesy of  Christchurch photographer, Steve Attwood.

Both adults incubate the grey, black-speckled eggs, which are well camouflaged against the river stones and pebbles.

After breeding most of the inland birds (slightly over half of the total population), migrate to Australia for winter.
Two sub-species of banded dotterel are recognized in New Zealand – the Charadrius b. bicinctus, breeding on the mainland and Chatham Islands; and Charadrius bicinctus exilis, breeding in the Auckland Islands.Banded dotterels are primarily carnivorous, but also take berries of shrubs such as Muehlenbeckia and Coprosma.

Animals eaten are varied and reflect local availability such as crustaceans, worms and flies at many coastal sites.

On the breeding grounds the diet is more varied and includes spiders, beetles, insect larvae, adults and sub-adults of many aquatic insects such as mayflies, stoneflies and caddis flies, as well as terrestrial flies.

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