Roaming dogs attacking nesting chicks at the Waikanae Estuary are damaging local bird populations and alarming residents.
In recent weeks the Kāpiti Coast District Council received at least four formal complaints about dogs roaming off-leash in restricted areas and, in some cases, distressed locals reporting they had seen dogs chasing and mauling birds.
Waikanae Estuary Bird Tours operator Mick Peryer said the riverbank, sandspit and wider estuary was the natural habitat for around 65 bird species. He added that it was now breeding and nesting season, which made the birds even more vulnerable.
“For example, dotterel – an endangered bird – nest in the flat sand and they’re so small that you won’t even notice a nest until you’re upon it. Unfortunately, when their parents are away, the chicks get taken by dogs.”
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Peryer said that oystercatchers were another target.
“The young are the same colour as the sand and are taught to freeze to try and avoid being spotted, but the dogs will just use their noses to track them down.”
Peryer said the estuary area was popular place for people to walk their dogs, but he urged them to be aware of where they were and were not allowed to go.
Kāpiti Coast District Council programme manager of biodiversity Rob Cross said that when dogs were let off-leash, they instinctively chased chicks that were on the ground at this time of year.
“The Waikanae Estuary is of national significance, renowned for its bird populations that draw bird watchers from all over the world. One reason that it is a dog-on-leash area is to protect the birds,” Cross said.
“The estuary is protected because it’s a crucial place for birds to rest, feed, and breed. Chicks that live on the ground in the spring are easy prey for dogs off-leash. We are receiving reports from distressed Waikanae residents who have seen birds being chased and mauled by dogs in places where they are required to be on leash.
“During the breeding season birds are stressed enough coping with the natural challenges of rearing young. They don’t need the added stress of harassment, or worse, by dogs off leash in breeding areas.”
The council’s environmental standards manager Jacquie Muir said that the solution to the problem was for people to have control of their dogs at all times.
“Dogs must be kept on-leash in on-leash areas throughout Kāpiti, and, when in an off-leash area, they must still be under control,” she said.
Under the Dog Control Act 1996, infringements included $200 for failing to keep dog under control; $100 for failing to carry leash in public; and $300 for failing to comply with the bylaw.
Peryer said another concern was vehicles driving on the sandspit at the estuary.
“The area is used like a motorway by whitebaiters and others driving to and from the river mouth, without a thought of what damage they may be doing to the environment and the birdlife.”
More information about designated areas, rules and restrictions was available from the council, as well as on the Dog Access Zones and Vehicles on the Beach pages at www.kapiticoast.govt.nz