Dogs  |  3 Nov 2021

The scenic walkways and beaches of the Avon-Heathcote Ihutai Estuary are popular with Christchurch dog-walkers, as are the wetlands which dot the city.

But as spring turns to summer dog owners may not be aware that hundreds of birds are nesting and raising chicks in those very places.

That's why it’s important that dog owners use a lead - to protect the future of our wildlife, says Christchurch City Council Ornithologist Andrew Crossland. 

“Spring and early summer is the peak breeding time for birds and because most of them nest on the ground or in low vegetation they’re very vulnerable to losing their eggs and their chicks being eaten.

“If a bird is disturbed by a person or animal it gets off the nest and moves away. If it’s off the nest for more than ten minutes on a hot, sunny day the eggs will cook – and they’ll die,” Mr Crossland says.

“Mum and dad bird come back to the nest and don’t realise. The eggs are still intact but they’re dead. As a consequence they waste an entire breeding season sitting on rotten eggs.

“It’s a vicious cycle. When the bird sees the dog, its instinct is to fly away. When the dog sees the bird flying, its instinct is to chase. As well as the chase instinct, the dog's incredible sense of smell enables them to follow a trail right to where the birds are nesting. ”

More than 100 bird species are found around Christchurch and up to one third of those are endangered and at risk.

Dog owners can help enormously by planning ahead, taking the lead and making sure they respect any restrictions in place.

As Animal Services Manager Lionel Bridger says, it’s about learning to share the outdoor spaces we all love. 

“Dog owners are kaitiaki to all living things. Plan ahead, so you can give your dog a great walk while also protecting our nesting birds and biodiversity.

“Explore different spaces at different times of the year and please report wildlife in distress if you see it.”

Find out where you and your dog can exercise off-leash together in a dog friendly environment.