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Nesting ‘cages’ for banded dotterels

Dotterel nesting in ‘cages’. Photo:Ailsa Howard

Ailsa Howard had been experimenting with the use of ‘nesting cages’ on South Bay, Kaikoura. This method is proving to be a highly successful technique for saving nesting dotterels, with the added social engagement benefit of placing emphasis on ‘saving’ birds rather than ‘killing’ predators, something that has great appeal to community and school groups. Until Ailsa experimented with the cages, the survival rate of chicks on South Bay was virtually nil; at the Braided

Nesting ‘cage’: click image to enlarge

Rivers seminar in June 2017 Ailsa’s poster presentation was sub-titled ‘Empty Nest Syndrome‘. Trail cameras revealed that cats and dogs took chicks, while unleashed dogs disturbed nesting adults to the point where they became too frightened to stay on nests at night. The nesting cages (called ‘exclosures’ in some of the literature) are designed so the gaps are large enough to allow adult birds to freely run in and out but small enough to keep out cats (even determined cats with long paws, as the trail cameras show) and dogs. Use of them has turned the previously abysmal statistic on its head: the adult dotterels returned to hatch a second and third egg rather than abandoning their nest after hatching just own or two. Adult birds are also visibly less anxious and more relaxed. By inference, fewer calories burned means potentially more time available for brooding.

The results speak for themselves: every ‘caged’ nest resulted in and least one successful fledgling. Ailsa is hoping to improve that statistic in 2018 by trapping hedgehogs and cats, which still predate on chicks once they leave the safety of the cages.

The potential of these ‘nesting cages’ to protect dotterels and other small birds including wrybill from aerial predators (particularly the growing population of black-backed gulls) as well as cats, dogs, and possibly larger hedgehogs, is exciting. For more information and the (relatively simple and inexpensive) design specs of the ‘nesting cages’ specifically for dotterels, please contact Ailsa: ailsa@fishnet.co.nz

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