Endangered New Zealand Bird Chooses Airport as Nesting Sanctuary, With Tall Fences to Keep Out All Their Predators

Endemic to New Zealand, this sweet little bird is called the tūturiwhatu, or New Zealand dotterel, and though endangered, it has found a unique sanctuary where it can nest and feed in relative peace.

Relative, because it comes with a significant amount of noise pollution. It’s the Auckland Airport, and 4 pairs of dotterel have been recorded in the green areas alongside the outer runways this year.

Even though anthropic elements are by and large the largest driver of species decline around the Earth, what can be an impediment to one species can be a sanctuary to another, and in the case of the Auckland Airport, wildlife manager Lucy Hawley said the high fences keep out the bird’s invasive predators.

“This is very attractive to nesting dotterels and our airfield’s become a real sanctuary for them,” Hawley told RZN.com. “These tiny little birds take absolutely no notice of the giant planes moving all around them and have no issues setting up home right beside the taxiways.”

Over the last ten years, Hawley has estimated that she and her groundskeepers have seen 80 dotterels hatch on the taxiways of the country’s busiest airport. The parents typically arrive between November and December.

Over time the airport has taken time to work with professional wildlife biologists who have banded some of the birds in order to track their movements and nesting behavior.

The large gassy exteriors of airports can often play host to wildlife.

The San Francisco garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia), which can grow to three feet in length, has skin that looks like a black canvas painted with racing stripes of bright orange and neon turquoise.

San Francisco garter snake-credit-Richard Kim: USGS Western Ecological Research Center
San Francisco garter snake-credit-Richard Kim: USGS Western Ecological Research Center

While the snake is mostly isolated around the San Francisco peninsula, they are thriving in numbers near the tarmac of the airport known as SFO.

A tract of 160 privately-owned acres has been put to work to save the beautiful reptile, including the construction of many small ponds where the snake can keep moist, breed, and hunt for its favorite prey: the red-legged frog—which is also endangered and given sanctuary on the SFO runway lawn.

Concerning the dotterel, there may only be 2,500 of them left in the country following years of egg predation from invasive creatures like stoats. Fortunately, the ground-nesting bird poses no risk to aviation and can live alongside the planes in relative comfort.

Hawley and her team use stakes to mark the nesting sites which can be practically invisible among the grass blades.

“We love doing our part to help this important species to breed,” she said.

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This article by Andy Corbley was first published by Good News Network on 6 November 2023. Lead Image: Released by Auckland Airport.

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