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Braided river birds: overview

More than 80 species of birds are found along braided rivers from the mountains to the sea. However, only 6 birds have evolved to live in this unique environment, and all are endemic, that is, they live only in New Zealand: black-billed gulls, black-fronted terns, banded dotterels, kaki/black stilt, South Island Pied Oystercatchers, and wrybill.

The remaining 4 native species: Caspian terns, red-billed gulls, white-fronted terns, and poaka/pied stilt  have been included here because they are often mistaken for the endemic braided river birds, and in the case of poaka/pied-stilt, present a problem for the endemic kaki/black stilt for reasons that are explained on their respective pages.

All of these birds are  taonga species for Ngāi tahu and as such, have special cultural, spiritual, historic, and traditional associations.

The populations of all braided river bird species are in decline; some are at risk of extinction.


Which birds are found on what rivers

For the most recent data on bird numbers on different rivers, either go to each of the rivers on this website and check the section titled bird surveys. Or contact Andy Grant at the Department of Conservation in Christchurch, as DOC keeps a database of bird counts.

Note that there are large gaps in the data. This is in part because: records are scattered, with many older records not digitalised; many remote areas have not been surveyed; some species such as black-billed gulls are visible from the air during the breeding season as they nest in closely-spaced colonies, so aerial surveys can be regarded as reasonably accurate; small cryptic species such as wrybill and dotterels are much harder and more labour intensive to count.

Important notes relating to the PDF documents below

Below are links to short (3 to 7 page) PDFs that include maps, types of river birds on each river in the South Island, and threats. These were each extracted from the 2016 edition of Forest & Bird’s Important Areas For New Zealand Sea Birds: Sites on Land: Rivers and Estuaries (177 pages).

  • The last known sightings or surveys were at the time of publication. On some rivers, this may have been several years ago
  • Braided river birds are migratory. Some species do not display site-fidelity; others do, but only of breeding conditions are optimal in the same place each year
  • Most if not all braided river birds populations are dropping rapidly due to threats

If you are monitoring or panning to monitor braided river birds, please first see the Department of Conservation PDF: ‘Protocol for best practice in monitoring braided river birds’.

References and research papers

See Ecology/references or check each of the bird pages listed in the menu above.