The order Charadriiformes comprises the shore birds — a large group including such well-known families as those of the oystercatchers, plovers, sandpipers, avocets, skuas, gulls, and terns. Because New Zealand is a group of oceanic islands with a long coastline and a limited fauna of land birds, this order is important here and its representatives make up approximately 25 per cent of all species present in the New Zealand region. That section of the order known collectively as the waders is very large and is made up, in general, of moderate-sized birds with long bills and legs. These birds are well adapted to feeding in the shallow waters of lakes, ponds, or rivers, on the tidal flats of estuaries, or along the sandy shores of the sea. Capable of powerful sustained flight, they are usually migratory. In New Zealand the great majority of our migrant birds are waders, and the best known and most abundant of these is the eastern race of the bar-tailed godwit, the kuaka of the Maori (Limosa lapponica).
Light brown above and white below, with a long upcurved bill, and often in flocks of some hundreds, godwits are a common sight as they feed on mud and sand flats along our coasts in summer. During the southern hemisphere winter, they have been present on their breeding grounds of Arctic tundra in Siberia and Alaska. Flying south, mainly along the island chains of the western Pacific, they arrive on our coasts during the second half of September. Here they stay until March when the northward migration begins. As autumn advances, godwits in the more southern parts of New Zealand begin to move in a northerly direction and then, after some days of mounting excitement, leave in moderate-sized flocks from many points around our coasts for their return journey overseas. A few birds over-winter here each year and, although they do not breed, they then assume the colourful breeding plumage of black and chestnut above and reddish chestnut below, the females being duller.
Food is small crustaceans, worms, molluscs, etc., obtained by probing with the long flexible beak in the sand at low tide.
by Gordon Roy Williams, B.SC.(HONS.)(SYDNEY), Lecturer in Agricultural Zoology, Lincoln Agricultural College.