20 Oct 2022

Christchurch is fast becoming home base for these striking black and white birds with around a third of the national population of royal spoonbill/Kōtuku Ngutupapa now choosing to call Ōtautahi home.

We think they’re a bit special with their white plumage, long legs and spectacular spoon-shaped bills. They also sport a pretty magnificent mullet at times, so at the risk of ruffling a few feathers we’re supporting it for the Bird of the Year Te Manu Rongonui o Te Tau competition.

Christchurch City Council Ecologist Andrew Crossland says the underbird theme in this year’s competition provides a perfect opportunity to highlight a species that is special locally but people might not be aware of.   

A royal spoonbill at Travis Wetland this month. Photo: John Dunlop

 “The royal spoonbill is the only spoonbill species that breeds in New Zealand and we are the number one spot for them! More than 1100 live in the greater Christchurch area during peak time.”

Flocks can be spotted on the Avon-Heathcote/Ihutai Estuary, Brooklands Lagoon, Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora, Lyttelton Harbour Lake Forsyth/Wairewa and Akaroa Harbour. A new colony was established this year at Oruapaeroa/Travis Wetland just 100m from a busy road.

“They’re attracted to the  extensive wetland habitat found in greater Christchurch including Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, New Zealand’s fifth largest lake and most important waterbird habitat.  The many areas of inter-tidal mudflat also offer rich feeding habitat at places like the estuary, Brooklands Lagoon and the many mudflat-lined embayments of Lyttelton and Akaroa harbours.”

Similar-looking to the more famous white herons, they have bills up to 22cm long and easily scoop up invertebrates, fish and frogs for their supper.

Mr Crossland says the Bird of the Year competition is a great way to raise awareness of our feathered friends and to highlight endangered, unique and lesser known species.

Make sure to have a flutter between now and 31 October at birdoftheyear.org

*The photos used with this story were taken by John Dunlop.