Urban Widlife Areas

Despite our strong rural roots, Aotearoa/New Zealand is one of the most urbanised countries in the world, and Auckland is (on a local scale) a mega-city with close to a third of all kiwis living here or hereabouts. Research is clear that urban peoples’ mental wellbeing is much improved when they have access to open spaces where nature flourishes, but the key question is how do you give people access to nature while keeping the focus on wildlife and maintaining biodiversity?

Two recent incidents at the Weiti chéniers illustrate the problem of maintaining nature within urban environments. The first was captured by a nest webcam and showed a family who’s actions not only disturbed nesting tūturiwhatu/ NZ dotterels for almost an hour, but put the eggs at risk by trampling.

One very agitated female dotterel and threats to the nest.

The family obviously intend no harm but their actions put the nest in considerable danger and exposed the eggs to unnecessary stress as the female was not able to sit on them for the hour the family were present at the nest site. So this is the first problem – modern people seem to have lost an intuitive understanding of how to behave in areas set aside for wildlife, we are so used used to being at the centre of the universe that we’ve lost the ability to understand how our actions might affect other creatures we share the world with. We do try and manage people and birds by roping off nesting sites, but sometimes the birds insist on nesting outside these safe spaces. Clearly education is the key to solving the problem of unawareness, and setting some simple ground rules to follow during the August – February nesting season – keep away from the high tide line where the birds nest and if there is a agitated bird around move away (keeping a sharp eye on where you place your feet!).

CXE, her mate and their chick. So the story had a happy ending (photo by Linda Gates)

Fortunately, the birds did hatch at least one chick (and hopefully more) but whether these have survived the weather is unknown as yet. CXE and her mate are experienced parents and successfully raised a chick last year, but dotterels lead a precarious enough life as it is. The chicks run the risk of starvation if they can’t feed during bad weather (they feed themselves from the get-go) or hypothermia if their downy feathers get sodden. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

The second incident was far more disturbing if less impactful. A jogger deliberately ran through the godwit flock, despite being asked not to.

Weiti kuaka/godwit flock 2023

In itself the effect of this particular action was not huge – the birds took off, flew around for a short while, and landed again – but it’s the attitude that’s disturbing. “I don’t care that this is one of those rare areas where nature can thrive, I’ll do exactly what I want without a thought for the creatures that the area is set aside for”. So why is it important not to disturb roosting birds? Well, they’ve just flown 11 000 km non-stop for eight or nine days and are doing their best to recover. This means that it’s best that the food they eat goes into replacing fat reserves and body condition, rather than being used to fly around because people think they have the right to disturb them. So a third ground rule might be to understand that in wildlife areas, we are the visitors and should behave accordingly.

Updates on tūturiwhatu nest and chick survival soon.

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