More than 200 bar-tailed godwits have arrived in Christchurch so far this week, at the end of their annual 11,000 km, non-stop journey from the Arctic Circle.
Local ornithologists spotted the first bunch of godwits - or kuaka - on Monday night.
The birds are now settled on the northern part of the Avon-Heathcote Estuary and parts of the Bexley wetland.
More birds are expected to arrive over the next few weeks, flying more than eight days non-stop from Alaska.
A Christchurch City Council spokesman said the return of the godwits was a welcome sign spring had arrived.
He said people could observe the birds around the Southshore Spit, but dogs must be kept away.
He said it was important the birds were well-rested over summer to make the return trip to Alaska in March.