This page is a general introduction to the birds of the Pāuatahanui Inlet. You can also read about specific birds as follows:

Black swan
White-faced heron


What birds can be seen on the Inlet?

Fifty species of birds regularly occur in the Pāuatahanui Inlet and its immediate terrestrial margin. Twenty-nine species are associated directly with the Inlet waters, fringing marshes and streams and 21 with the terrestrial margin. Fourteen 'resident' species are always present on or about the water and 12 on the terrestrial fringe. Most of the remainder are seasonal migrants from within New Zealand that come every year, usually in their non-breeding season. There are also visitors such as the two or three Gannets that appear for a few days each year. The Eastern Bar-tailed Godwit is a spectacular migrant that breeds in north-eastern Siberia and migrates south every northern winter; a few of these come to the Inlet.



The most commonly seen birds on the Inlet and in its marshes are Southern Black-backed Gull, Red-billed Gull, Mallard, Paradise Shellduck, Black Swan, Royal Spoonbill, Pied Stilt, Spur-winged Plover, Oystercatcher, Little shag, Black Shag, White-faced Heron and Pukeko.


(Photo above: 'White-faced herons - the Chase', Margaret Jorgensen; photo right, 'Juvenile pied shag', Charles Jarvie)




Habitats and the birds they support

One feature of the Inlet that is unusual in the Wellington region is that it includes many different habitats within a small area.


Tidal flats and sand banks. When the tide is out, spoonbills, oystercatchers, gulls, pied stilts, herons, plovers, etc feed on the cockles, snails, worms and small crabs they find here. When the tide is in, diving birds such as ducks and black swans eat the seagrass and algae.


Salt marsh and nearby pasture. These are the feeding grounds of grazing birds and those that eat worms, snails, insects and insect larvae, such as geese, pukeko, paradise shellducks, mallards, kingfishers and swallows.


Open water. Fishing birds such as shags, gulls and the occasional visiting gannets find good hunting here.


Streams. Weeds, insect larvae on the bottom and adult insects flying above the water provide food for ducks, kingfishers, pied stilts, swallows etc.


Woodland and domestic gardens. Birds such as starlings, blackbirds, tui, fantails, grey warblers, waxeyes, finches, sparrows, swallows and pigeons find insects, insect larvae, worms, snails, pollen and nectar in these environments.



Bird activity

Bird activity provides for some spectacular sights.


Royal Spoonbills feed elegantly by sweeping their long bills from side to side in shallow water. Their numbers seem to be increasing each year as the breeding colony on Kapiti Island expands. Sometimes a flock of them can be seen flying home to Kapiti in the evening.


Back Swans move majestically around the Inlet like an armada of tall ships.


Shags in mobs cruise the Inlet just above the water, suddenly settling and fishing.


Herons sedately parade close to the shore, stepping carefully as they hunt for small flounders.


Starlings wheel and turn in great squadrons in an aerobatic display, before they roost at sundown in winter.


Gulls rise and swoop with the thermals and air currents on sunny and windy days.

Do the birds cause any problems?

The birds of the Inlet are a delight, but right now Black Swans and Canada Geese are both causing concern.


Dense eelgrass beds provide excellent habitat for many small animals that are in the food chain for fish and the beds may also help to protect cockles. But eelgrass is also the favourite food of Black Swans, whose numbers are growing very quickly. Until recently eelgrass was in decline in the Inlet, and although we have seen some recent recovery, an increased swan population may well be affecting how easily and quickly the eelgrass can recolonise the sand banks. This is a area where we would like to see more research being done. (Photo of black swan, right, by Helen Westerbeke.)


Also rising sharply are the numbers of Canada Geese, a bird that arouses mixed feelings. While it is appreciated for its attractiveness, it is an introduced species and in parts of the world it is classified as a pest. It is an aggressive bird that is interfering with the breeding patterns of other species in the Wildlife Reserve at the head of the Inlet. It is also a voracious feeder and produces copious quantities of faeces, which are rich in nitrogen and a potent eutrophication agent in the confined shallow ponds of the salt marsh. The Guardians of Pāuatahanui Inlet have developed a policy favouring the control of geese numbers. (Photo, 'Canada Geese', Willow Grace-Morton.)


Last Updated: 07/09/2017 10:59pm