Dogs threaten rare white heron
Two kotuku – white herons or great white egrets, have been photographed at the Manawatu Estuary.
With only an estimated 150-200 white heron living in New Zealand, having a pair of these rare and graceful birds at the local estuary is regarded as something special.
However, concerns have been raised that unrestrained dogs – both local and visiting the area – are being allowed to run across the mud flats and sandspits where birds feed, roost and rest, chasing after them, and frequently causing them to take flight.
It is important to note that these birds, commonly known as shoreline flock birds, are basically wading and sea birds that don’t seek shelter in trees. This makes them particularly vulnerable to harassment.
The only protection afforded from dogs is the Horowhenua District Council’s Dog Control Policy, 2015 which requires dogs to be under control, and prohibits dogs from the bird sanctuary area. This policy, which is in keeping with the Wildlife Protection Act 1953, is not being adhered to and is frequently completely ignored by dog owners. The welfare of estuary birds is a key focus for the Manawatu Estuary Trust. Everyone who enjoys access to the estuary’s unique and biodiverse heritage needs to be aware of their guardianship responsi- bilities. The Trust encourages all dog owners to keep their dogs on a leash when near the mudflats and sandspits to ensure the area remains a safe haven for the many species that live or visit there.
The Manawatu Estuary is a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, giving sanctuary to several bird species, both migratory and permanent. The spring equinox in October will see numbers of migratory birds return to spend the following five months resting, feeding and regaining body weight to prepare for their seasonal return flight to breeding grounds beyond the Arctic Circle. The estuary’s statutory managers, the Department of Conservation, Horizons Regional Council and Horowhenua District Council, together with the trust, work alongside a number of other interested groups, within a framework for the preservation of this special natural heritage area.
One of a pair of kotuku or white herons in flight over mudflats at the Manawatu Estuary.