The bells of Christchurch cathedral rang for half an hour at midday on Saturday, welcoming bar-tailed godwits to the city.
The first of the returning birds have been sighted on the Avon - Heathcote estuary.
Enthusiast Islay McLeod says they are a welcome sign of spring and some good news for the city.
Every year, the godwits migrate 30,000km between New Zealand and Alaska.
"Absolutely astonishing for a bird that's not much bigger than a pigeon - that super effort just to get here I think is worth celebrating.
"It's also a very important indigenous sign of spring here. It's a traditional form of celebration - the bells ring out when something good happens and my word, we need some good news in Christchurch."
About 2000 birds are expected to be seen in Canterbury over the next few months, while they rest and feed before flying back to Alaska.