Flock of rare shorebird stays close to home

NUMBERS CRITICAL: The shore plovers at Plimmerton make up   a fifth of the total population of the bird.
NUMBERS CRITICAL: The shore plovers at Plimmerton make up a fifth of the total population of the bird.

A flock of one of the rarest shorebirds has taken up residence on the Plimmerton coast.

About 50 shore plovers – about 20 per cent of the world population – flew out of the Conservation Department breeding programme on Mana Island and settled near the Plimmerton fire station, north of Wellington.

The species is listed by DOC as nationally critical, a reference to there being fewer than 250 mature birds in existence.

Among the birds now at Plimmerton is Ro-Bo, a six-year-old female born at Mt Bruce, in Wairarapa, and released on Mana Island the following year.

Shore plovers were once widespread on South Island coasts but their numbers were hit hard by the introduction of predators in the 1800s – cats, stoats and rats.

The only natural New Zealand breeding population of shore plovers is on Rangatira Island in the Chatham Islands.

Plimmerton residents are being urged to keep dogs on leads and cats away from the birds.

The reintroduction programme has been in place on Mana Island, off Wellington, since 2007. In early June the shore plovers flew from Mana Island to Plimmerton.

DOC's biodiversity programme manager, Peter Simpson, said there were concerns that most of the shore plovers on Mana Island had "packed up their bags and flown away" after DOC staff and volunteers put so much effort into breeding and rearing the birds. "We're hoping some of them might return to the island for nesting later in the year."

Breeding programmes operated at Motuora Island (in Hauraki Gulf), Mana Island, Mt Bruce and Peacock Springs, in Christchurch.

Wellington