((Bird detectives, click on the tracks below to see who made them.))
Estuaries are prime habitats for coastal birds and many New Zealand
bird species are found in or near wetlands and estuaries. Miranda,
in the Firth of Thames, is a major feeding ground for more than
50,000 wading shore birds. Some of these, including Godwits, spend
the summer at Miranda and then, in the autumn, fly to their nesting
grounds as far away as Siberia and Alaska. Along the way, the
birds depend on estuaries in other countries as feeding and resting
sites. The loss of even one of these important way points would
result in the extinction of the birds.
Beaches are also very important nesting sites for many species
of birds. The sand dunes behind beaches are important for long
term beach survival. Exotic plants, road construction, and vehicle
traffic has damaged sand dunes in many areas.
The New Zealand dotterel is under threat because it builds its nest in vegetation of sand dunes. As more people use the beaches for recreation, the nesting sites are often destroyed by people stepping on them or by pet dogs attacking the nests.
The Caspian turn and the Ferry turn build their nests on open
beaches, often on sand shoals off river mouths where they are
protected from land animals by narrow bands of water. One of the
reasons these may be vanishing from New Zealand's coasts is the
loss off sand bars through coastal modification and pollution
of these habitats as the rivers have become heavily populated.
The white-faced Heron walks through estuaries on its long legs. It's feet are very big so they don't sink into soft mud. Herons move very slowly, careful not to let its shadow pass over its intended fish meal, and when it is close, it strikes. The long neck is like a snake uncoiling. It is so quick, Herons have no trouble plucking a fish out of the water.
Many wading birds, like the pied oystercatchers, sleep during
high tide and walk the mud and sand flats at low tide. They don't
eat oysters, they use their long, strong beaks to probe for worms,
shrimp, crabs and cockles. They can spot a cockle breathing hole
and spear into the shell so quickly the cockle does not have the
chance to close its shell. One oystercatcher might gobble up over
two hundred cockles in a day.
Sea birds like turns are excellent flyers and can skim over the surface of the sea, and snatch a fish out of the ocean in mid-flight. Many of these birds range more than 50 miles offshore gathering fish. The most impressive sea bird is the giant Albatross which can stay up in the air flying for months at a time, never landing anywhere at all. Like the turns, they swoop down to gobble up fish from the surface of the sea.
Sea Gulls are scavengers and eat almost anything at all, which
is why you can find heaps of them at landfills where they pick
through the rubbish. They also pick through the rubbish at places
like boat ramps, often scattering rubbish everywhere. It's a good
idea to take your rubbish home with you after boating or be sure
it is put into a covered waste bin so the gulls don't toss it
Discuss some of the problems faced by birds that lay their eggs
on the beach or on sand dunes. Consider dogs and cats, people,
cars, pesticides, lights, noise, and other problems that might
prevent the birds from properly mating, nesting and rearing their
Act out the roles of the birds with young on the beach and have other students act like children visiting the beach or like dogs. The students playing the birds can't speak until after the game. Then they tell the class how they felt being a bird on a beach. How would they like people to behave?
Look at photographs and drawings of coastal birds. They all have
different bills, feet, colours, legs, and other features. Each
difference represents a special adaptation for the way the bird
lives. What can you discover about a bird's way of life by looking
at the way it is shaped?
Invite a friendly ornithologist to help you learn about looking for birds, nests, and how to observe the behaviour of birds.
Visit an estuary and look
in the trees, tidal flats, and shore areas for birds. Can you
find different birds in the different habitats? Discuss adaptations
to different habitats (like feet that can easily hold onto branches
in trees versus feet that are good for wading or feet designed
Help with a bird census. Talk to the local chapter of the Royal
Forest and Bird or the Ornithological Society about helping to
count birds as part of the national census of birds of New Zealand.
Join a dune care group to look after sand
dunes, replanting native vegetation and protecting bird nesting
Find out who is looking after the interests of coastal birds in
your area. Is there a bird recovery network in your area? Invite
people who are helping birds to talk to the class about their
Margins of the Sea, Exploring New Zealand's Coastlines 1985, John Morton.
Field Guide to New Zealand Birds Geoff Moon, Reed Publishers
Sea Shore Birds Geoff Moon and Gordon Ell Reed Publishers
Tauranga's Coastal Birds New Zealand Geographic Magazine #7
Pukeko - indomitable swamp hen. New Zealand Geographic
The New Zealand School Journal:
A Day with Seagulls 1983 Part 1 no.2 8.5-9.5
The Gannet 1980 Part 3 no.2 11-12
Gulls - feeding and breeding 1969 Part 3 no.1 9.5-10.5
Seagulls 1968 Part 1 no.2 9.5-10.5
What Are They Doing?
(Articles about Shags) 1995 Part 3 no. 1 8.5-9.5 years