New Zealand dotterel (tūturiwhatu)

The New Zealand dotterel, tūturiwhatu, is a threatened shorebird, found only in New Zealand. This much-loved native bird has two subspecies.

The Northern New Zealand dotterel is found in coastal areas around parts of the North Island, with a conservation status of threatened – nationally increasing and a total population of more than 2,500.

The Southern New Zealand dotterel meanwhile is critically endangered. A population count by DOC found only 101 birds in 2024, a reduction of 19% from the 2023 population of 126.

Tūturiwhatu are vulnerable because they nest on the ground, in a ‘scrape’ in the sand and young birds and eggs fall prey to pest animals. Human activity on beaches is a major threat as well as loss of habitat due to coastal development.

These charming little birds are found on sandy beaches and tidal estuaries, well camouflaged in brown and off-white with the plumage on their chest turning orange just before the breeding season. They breed in monogamous pairs, usually from September to March, and once established on a territory will usually return there for nesting each year. They show tremendous bravery in their efforts to protect their young and will pretend to be injured, with a ‘broken wing’ display, to draw predators away from their nests.

Tūturiwhatu facts

Two distinct subspecies:

  • Northern New Zealand dotterel (Charadrius obscurus aquilonius) is found in coastal areas around parts of the North Island, with most birds residing between North Cape and East Cape.
  • Southern New Zealand dotterel (Charadrius obscurus obscurus) is critically endangered. Research from DOC published in April 2024 found only 101 birds remain.

How you can help

  • Stay outside fenced-off areas with ‘bird nesting’ signs to protect breeding grounds
  • If you see a dotterel pretending to be injured, or come across eggs or chicks, please leave them alone
  • Keep vehicles off beaches
  • Keep your dog on a leash at all times. Remember that some beaches are only open for dog-walking at certain times of year
  • Walk, or ride your horse if allowed on the beach, below the high tide mark where dotterels are breeding.

If you see tūturiwhatu

Report tūturuwhati sightings via CoastCare groups or to [email protected]

For more information on:

Driving on beachesDriving on beaches - Northland Regional Council (

Dogs on beaches | Dogs on beaches (

New Zealand dotterel/tūturiwhatu| and

NZ Dotterel on the beach.

NZ Dotterel.

NZ Dotterel nest with three eggs.

NZ Dotterel nest with eggs.