03 February 2012
There are some new arrivals to the apron area at Auckland Airport – a family of young New Zealand dotterels.
While many birds are a danger to aircraft because they get scared and can get caught up in the engines, the endangered New Zealand dotterels are unbothered by the constant air traffic and represent little risk.
Auckland Airport grounds and wildlife hazards management planner, Peter Robinson, explains: “On the ground they see the plane coming, turn around, walk away and then they’ll walk back to where they were. They don’t panic. These birds are smart.”
He says when they are protecting a nest, the birds pretend they have a broken wing to lead the potential “predator” away from their eggs. “If you’re really careful you can follow them one way and another and work out where the nest is using vectors.”
When a nest is found, staff sometimes use plastic barriers to keep people away from it and may delay lawn mowing in that area for a month or until the chicks are seen. The chicks usually take 30 days to hatch.
Which is what happened when a nest was found west of Pier B before Christmas. “The chick is now hatched and is fully fledged. He’s almost as big as his parents now,” Peter says.
Airport staff already keep the apron area clear of rodents and other predators as part of their duties, so the entire airfield is almost a de facto wildlife sanctuary.
An actual bird sanctuary is on Wiroa Island and is an essential part of Auckland Airport’s Wildlife Management Programme. New Zealand dotterels often breed there and on the grass islands of the airfield.