Welcoming committee for godwits

Godwits have arrived at the Manawatu Estuary, with the migratory birds having made a direct flight across the Pacific Ocean.

Every year they fly from Alaska to the southern hemisphere for summer.

Out of an estimated population of 100,000, about 200 end up at the estuary, near Foxton.

On Saturday the Manawatu Estuary Trust and Forest and Bird held a "welcome the birds day" where about 30 people braved the wind and chill to get a view of the long-billed, long-legged travellers.

Organiser Joan Leckie said the birds flew directly here across the sea, a trip that took about a week. On Saturday they were "hunkering down" to escape the wind.

They arrived in waves, with the first bunch touching down a couple of weeks ago.

"They are the champion flyers of the world," she said. "They stay for six months and go round about the time of the [March] equinox."

In New Zealand they feed on the rich invertebrates available in estuary mud.

As well as the birds at Foxton, about 115 have been seen at the Ohau Estuary on the Kapiti Coast. Others go to Manukau Harbour and some end up in South Australia.

On their trip home they would stop off in China, although feeding grounds there were being decimated through rice crops replacing estuaries, Mrs Leckie said.

Nobody knows why the birds travel so far.

"It's quite a puzzle. They've always done it. There's an old legend that the people in the Pacific Islands used to see them going by and they followed them south to find New Zealand," she said.

Manawatu Standard