Wrybills vs Dotterels

One wonderful feature of spring is that the birds start coming back. on Tuesday 17 October 2023 I saw a dozen Ngutuparore | Wrybills. Back on 30 September 2023 I spotted Pohowera | Banded dotterels at the edge of the estuary. See The birds are returning to the shore.

These birds are confusing though: Banded Dotterel, Tūturiwhatu | New Zealand dotterel and Wrybill. We get them all, and they're all similar: small birds that dash about feeding in the sand.

Banded Dotterel

Banded dotterel on driftwood.
Banded dotterel on driftwood. This adult Banded Dotterel photo was taken on 25 November 2021.

Info: Banded Dotterels — Length: 20 cm; Weight: 60 grams (about sparrow size). Note the stubby beak and orange patch. Endemic; Conservation status: Declining.

First eggs are laid in August to early November, in shallow scrapes in gravel, sand or soil, usually lined with tiny stones, occasionally shell. The clutch-size nearly always is three eggs, which are coloured grey to pale-green or olive with small dark spots.

Dotterel. Note the yellow leg band.
Dotterel. (I'm not sure about the identification on this bird — it could be a juvenile Banded Dotterel or one of the variants of NZ Dotterel.) Note the yellow leg band. Photo taken 15 April 2023.

NZ Dotterel

NZ Dotterel on driftwood.
NZ Dotterel on driftwood. Photo taken 28 November 2022.

Info: NZ Dotterels — Length: 25 cm; Weight: 146 g (northern), 160 grams (southern). Note the orange chest. No stripe. Endemic; Conservation status: Recovering.

The nests of northern New Zealand dotterels are simple scrapes in the substrate, sometimes sparsely lined or decorated, often with a marker of driftwood or vegetation. Three eggs are laid, usually from August or September, and are replaced if lost. Incubation usually takes 28-30 days; the fledging period is variable, but averages about 6 weeks.


Wrybill with beak curved to the right.
Wrybill with beak curved to the right. Photo taken 17 October 2023.

Info: Wrybills — Length: 20 cm; Weight: 55 grams. The beak curves to the right. Thinner stripe, no orange patch. Endemic; Conservation status: Nationally Increasing.

Territories may overlap with those of other species (e.g. banded dotterel, black-fronted tern, pied stilt), but are vigorously defended against other wrybills. The nest is a shallow scrape in the gravel, lined with many small stones. The normal clutch is 2; first clutches are laid in September or October. Replacement clutches laid after loss may occur through to January.

Next time you're on the beach take a good long look at the tiny birds you see.

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