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Nesting Season: Endangered Birds Find Safe Haven At New Zealand’s Busiest Airport

With the onset of spring, Auckland Airport is underway with a conservation effort to protect one of New Zealand’s special native endangered species.

Over the past eight weeks, tūturiwhatu (New Zealand dotterel) have started to take up residence at Auckland Airport, making their nests and laying eggs on the grassy areas in between taxiways.

Wildlife Manager Lucy Hawley said Auckland Airport was proud to provide a safe breeding ground for tūturiwhatu, a special native bird species, which presents no risk to the safe operation of the airfield, such as bird strike.

“At Auckland Airport, our airfield is predator free with high fencing right around the perimeter, which does a great job of keeping out stray cats, dogs and other pests. This is very attractive to nesting dotterels and our airfield’s become a real sanctuary for them.

“It’s incredibly exciting come October each year to see them setting up their nests. 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.

“We take great care to monitor the nests and make sure our people in the area know their whereabouts so we can help keep them safe. We love doing our part to help this important species to breed,” she said.

There are estimated to be just over 2,5001 tūturiwhatu, endemic to New Zealand, making them an endangered bird species.

This spring Auckland Airport is working in partnership with certified bird banders on a new initiative to band tūturiwhatu nesting at Auckland Airport to track their nesting behaviour. The birds will be tracked to see if they return to nest each year, and to find out if their chicks also return to lay eggs at Auckland Airport.

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Currently there are four pairs of tūturiwhatu nesting at Auckland Airport, with more expected to nest between now and Christmas.

“Each year we get between eight and twelve dotterels nesting at the airport. Over the past 10 years we estimate we would have seen around 80 dotterels hatch on our airfield, something we’re super proud of,” she said.

Auckland Airport’s wildlife team marks the location of nests throughout the season, recording their locations using GIS technology, which maps out nesting spots. The team also use coloured stakes placed around the perimeter of nest areas so airfield workers, including lawn mowers, know where they are located.

Auckland Airport’s dedicated wildlife team works with the Department of Conservation (DOC), Forest and Bird, SPCA and Auckland Council to ensure native species are protected wherever possible on both the airfield and aviation precinct, including construction sites such as Mānawa Bay, where tūturiwhatu were also nesting.

For the safety of the travelling public, it isn’t always possible for bird species to coexist with airfield operations, due to the safety risks posed to aircraft by bird strike.

It’s a safety issue Auckland Airport takes seriously, with a wide range of techniques used to move birds away from the airfield, such as using sirens, deterrent sounds, and cultivating grass that produces seed that has limited appeal to birds.

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