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Black-fronted dotterel

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February 2020 Issue

The black-fronted dotterel is strikingly coloured and has a plumage pattern that makes it a delight to photograph.

Conservation status
Black-fronted dotterel are self-introduced, arriving here from Australia, and became established in the 1950s, making the bird a native species. They are classified as naturally uncommon, with an estimated population of less than 3000.

They are most recognisable by their striking Y-shaped black chest feathers which contrast strongly with white plumage above and below.

They also have a conspicuous black stripe that runs right through the middle of the eye and extends behind the head. The upper parts of the body and top of the head are a light brown colour and a bright red bill and eye ring give the bird an almost clown-like appearance.

They weigh between 30g and 35g and are about 17cm in length.

The only call that black-fronted dotterel make is a sharp, high-pitched ‘peep’ or ‘tip’ noise usually made as a single note but occasionally repeated three or four times in rapid succession.

Feathery facts

Generally speaking, black-fronted dotterel are not gregarious, with birds usually seen singly, in pairs or in small groups of up to five birds. On very hot days, parents will shade their young using their bodies and outspread wings and also perform distraction displays when alarmed or presented with potential danger.

Black-fronted dotterel are a solitary nesting species and breed between August and March, with a peak in September. Nests are sited on open ground, in fields, gravel pits, riverbeds or stony land but never far from fresh water. The nest is usually a simple depression in the ground with no lining, but it’s often surrounded by a few twigs, stones or grass. A clutch consists of two or three eggs which take about 24 days to hatch with second and sometimes third clutches common after the first brood has fledged.

They are busy foragers, feeding actively throughout the whole day, usually at the edge of slow moving streams, rivers, estuaries or still ponds.

They consume small invertebrates including insects, earthworms, snails, crustaceans, spiders and mites. Their foraging method of walking, running, stopping and bobbing, all the while pecking at the water’s edge, is quite comical. Seeds from grasses and clover form a small part of their diet.

Bird spotting tips
Their run, stop, walk, bob up and down style of movement is a real identification giveaway. Their gait is very rapid and the body is often held in a nearly horizontal posture. When observing from a closer distance, the bright red bill and eye ring will confirm identification.