Birds of

New Zealand






I didn't set out to study birds as part of our New Zealand experience but it is a bit like with fish.  When a colorful or interesting one catches my eye I want to know about it.  So armed with a camera and bird identification book I'm wandering around New Zealand snapping shots of any feathered creature gracious enough to strike a pose.


Kaka - Rainbow Springs, Rotorua

Native, found only in NZ.  Not common.  Large parrot usually found in mature native forest.  They behave like monkeys, using their bills and feet to climb and swing through the branches. Some can live more than 20 years.


Welcome Swallow - Gulf Harbour

Native.  Common.  Fly erratically not unlike bats.  Have been known to collide mid-air.  Makes nest of mud and saliva lined with feathers or wool. Attaches to beams beneath bridges, inside pipes, on cliffs, under eaves of buildings or in the awnings of moored yachts.  Oh oh, this bird was sitting on the boat next to Tenaya. Was it waiting for us to leave?


Goldfinch - Gulf Harbour

Introduced.  Very common.  Because of its vibrant colors many were trapped in 19th century England for caged birds.  Lives about 8 years.  Seen high atop a tree near the bird below.


Yellowhead or Yellowhammer - Gulf Harbour

I found this bird singing beautifully at the top of the highest tree around.  While I was trying to capture his picture the Goldfinch above appeared in the viewfinder.

This bird more closely resembles the Yellowhead in my identification book, but I hesitate to think it is one because the native, found only in NZ bird is rare and found on South Island forests only. Possibly, it could have escaped from Tiritiri Matangi a short distance away. 

More likely, it is a Yellowhammer and the dark lines on its head just weren't visible in this less than stellar photo.  Yellowhammers are introduced and very common.


Song Thrush - Whangaparaoa

Introduced.  Very common.  Runs or hops a few steps before stopping to pick up something to eat.  Often carries snails to a favorite rock littered with smashed shells. Can live more than 10 years.


Takahe - Tiritiri Matangi Island

Native.  Found only in New Zealand.  Only about 200 birds exist today. Thought to be extinct for 50 years until observed in 1948 near Lake Te Anau on the South Island. They have been introduced to sanctuaries around the country including Tiritiri Matangi Island Open Sanctuary.  This is Greg.  He is about 18 years old and has learned that bags mean goodies. He struts around the Visitor's Center, where guests eat lunch, hoping to steal a tidbit.  A human escort makes sure he receives nothing.  Three times the size of a pukeko, they have shorter, heavier legs and are as tall as a man's knees.  They have lost their ability to fly.  Can live 14-20 years.


Stitchbird - Tiritiri Matangi Island

Native. Found only in sanctuaries in New Zealand.  The name comes from its call.  It is the only bird in the world known to mate face to face.  Can live up to 7 years.


NZ Robin - Tiritiri Matangi Island

Native. Found only in New Zealand. Not common.  Friendly and curious.  Hops about on the ground in search of insects and worms.  Unrelated to the robin red-breast.  Can live more than 16 years.


New Zealand Pigeon - Tutukaka

Native.  Found only in NZ.  Also known as a Wood Pigeon.  One of the world's most beautiful pigeons.  Large and clumsy with noisy wingbeats, it crashes through the branches of the forest and eats a large variety of fruit. Berries in their stomachs flavor the meat which makes them a desirable food for the Maori.  As their numbers have been declining, there is now a $250,000 fine for killing them for food.  Can live for 10 years.


Peacock - Kawau Island

Introduced.  Brought to Kawau by Governor Grey along with many other exotic birds, animals and plants. This one wandered around the Mansion House unconcerned by the people just disgorged from the ferry across the expansive lawn.


Weka (top) Juvenile Weka (bottom) - Kawau Island

Native.  Found only in NZ.  Common in places.  Although it has wings, it cannot fly but is a fast runner.  Believed to have originally flown to NZ as a wetland bird and slowly evolved into a forest bird with no need to fly.  Can live over 15 years.


Grey Warbler - Tutukaka Reserve

Native.  Found only in NZ.  Very common.  The bird's remarkable song can only be fully appreciated by man when a taped song is slowed down and the complexity understood. It lays just one batch of chicks before the Shining Cuckoo arrives from the Solomon Islands and lays its own eggs in the warbler's nest. A few days after birth the faster growing cuckoo chick shoves out the warbler eggs and chicks.  In their place the warbler parents raise a young cuckoo.  Grey warblers can live to about 10 years.


Australasian Gannet - Russell Island

Native.  Common in places.  Usually seen at sea or around harbors.  These birds drop from the sky from heights of up to 30 meters, reaching speeds of 145 km, before hitting the water and diving to 8 meters.  Just before breaking the surface, the bird retracts its wings and inflates shock cushions on its lower neck and chest as protection.  In 1974 one dove into a car crossing the Auckland Harbour Bridge.  Although it broke the windshield, the dead bird's head and neck survived the impact. 


Blue Penguin - Whangaroa Harbour and along coast to Tutukaka

Native.  Common.  Named for the blue-black color on the bird's back.  The world's smallest penguin and NZ's most common penguin.  The only penguin to breed on the North Island coasts.  Usually spotted swimming on its own or in small groups.  Hunts small squid, fish and octopus.  Spends most of the year at sea but often comes ashore at night to rest.  In August they come ashore to breed in burrows, caves, under driftwood and even under beach cottages.  They usually nest near the coast but can travel a kilometer or more inland.  Road signs warn motorists to watch out at night for birds crossing the road to reach their nests. 


Young Little Shag (above) Adult Little Shag (below)- Urapukapuka Island

Native.  Common. Shags are also known as cormorants.  Young bird is all black with short, yellow bill, adult has white chest very similar to pied shag though slightly different markings on head and beaks are different. Nests and spends nights in trees. Dives for fish, freshwater crayfish and frogs usually staying under for about 15 seconds.  Can live more than 6 years.


Pied Shag and fledge - Haruru Falls to Waitangi Track

Native.  Common in places.  Larger than little shags.  Found mostly near the coast.  Dives for fish staying down 20-30 seconds.  Large groups are often seen nesting in trees which can be damaged by crash-landing birds. Birds often rest with wings outstretched.  Can live over 20 years.


Eastern Rosella - Waitangi

Introduced.  Common in places.  Most brightly colored bird found in NZ.  Introduced as a caged bird which escaped into the wild about 1910.  Still found only in patches near where the original birds broke free.  Seen in orchards, lightly wooded country, dense native forest, parks and gardens. Saw this one at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.


Royal Albatross - Fiji to New Zealand passage

Native, breeds only in NZ.  Common in places. One of the largest flying birds in the world with a wingspan of over 3 meters.  Rides circumpolar winds, feeds on squid in the seas off South America.  Flies a route along the south of Africa and Australia and back to NZ.  When a chick is ready to fly, it makes no practice flights, just steps off the cliff into the wind.  It will not walk on land again for 3-6 years, spending more than 80% of its life at sea. Royal Albatross lock their wings in place using a special tendon and hardly beat their wings for thousands of kilometers. They fly at speeds up to 115 km/hr, swooping at more than 140 km/hr.   One lived more than 62 years.


Variable Oystercatchers - Urapukapuka

Variable Oystercatcher chick - Roberton Island

Native, found only in NZ.  Common.  Seen exclusively along the coast from sandy beaches to rocky shores. Half the birds in the northern North Island are pure black, but in the southern South Island almost all are black.  Possibly for heat retention? Can live to 19 years.


Paradise Shelduck - Opua

Native, found only in NZ.  Common.  Large goose-like duck.  They do not quack - males "klonk" and females "zeek".  This shelduck is a young female and was "zeeking" loudly in the marina parking lot when I spotted her. The head and neck of adult females are all white. Paradise shelducks usually nest in a dip or hole in the ground or in a hollow log.  Some nest in trees 25 meters up, a long leap for ducklings.  Once able to fly, they may travel over 200 km from their birthplace but as adults they tend to stay in the same area.  Pairs mate for life.  Maori women wore the mottled feathers as pendants and necklaces and the birds were an important food for early Maori.  Can live to more than 23 years.

























Australian Magpie - Tongariro

Introduced.  Very common.  Brought to control insect pests on farmland.  Fiercely territorial, it attacks many native birds including large ones.  Also dive bombs large animals and people approaching its nest, sometimes striking with its claws.  Can live nearly 20 years.


Kea - Rainbow Springs, Rotorua

Native, found only in NZ.  Common in places.  One of the world's few alpine parrots.  Lives in the South Island at or above timberline.  Quite intelligent and inquisitive, they learn from experience.  Often playful and comical.  Can live over 20 years.


Spur-Winged Plover - Waitomo

Native.  Common.  Found mainly in farmland but also seen in estuaries.  Nests on the ground defending its nest and chicks from magpies and harriers by screeching and dive-bombing.  Will strike with their wings or sharp wing spurs. Know to chase people the same way, inflicting wounds with the 1 cm long spur. Lives more than 16 years.


Banded Rail - Rainbow Springs, Rotorua

Native.  Common in places.  A secretive bird more often heard than seen.  Lives and nests in saltmarsh, mangroves and some rush-covered freshwater swamps.  Closely related to the weka.   


Grey Teal - Rainbow Springs, Rotorua

Native.  Common in places.  Much smaller than other ducks.  Males and females are the same color.  Found on lakes and estuaries.  Can live 21 years.


Bellbird - Tiritiri Matangi Island

Native.  Found only in NZ.  Common.  Beautiful song sounds like bells ringing or flutes playing. Both male and females sing throughout the year. Feeds on insects and nectar, helped by its brush-like tongue.  Can live more than 8 years. 


Saddleback - Tiritiri Matangi Island

Native. Found only in sanctuaries in New Zealand.  Has small orange-red wattles on either side of beak and a rusty brown "saddle" on its back.  Belongs to the wattlebird family, a family with no close relatives anywhere else in the world. May live more than 17 years.


Whitehead - Tiritiri Matangi Island

Native. Only found on the North Island of New Zealand.  Not common. In summer, autumn and winter they fly in noisy, fast-moving flocks.  To Maori, these flocks were a warning that ghosts were nearby.


Tui - Tutukaka Reserve

Native. Common. Also called the Parson's Bird for the white tufts at its collar.  Varied and distinctive song including grunts, coughs and gurgles. Maori kept them in cages and trained them to memorize and repeat elaborate Maori welcome speeches of up to seventy words.  The bristles of its brushlike tongue was even trimmed to help the bird speak more clearly.  It's said that it is able to imitate the call of every bird in the forest as well as crowing roosters, barking dogs, an old man's cough, a child's laughter and even the sound of a car alarm.  It has been protected since 1873.  Can live more than 12 years.


New Zealand Storm Petrel - Near Tutukaka

Flight is swift and agile, frequently changing direction.  It flies low across the sea with rapid wingbeats interspersed with glides. It may patter, dance, run, skip and occasionally belly-flop on the surface.


Shearwater - near Cape Brett

Kingfisher - Kawau Island

Native.  Very common.  More common on the North Island, it is often seen perched on wires, branches and fenceposts.  It nests in a small tunnel in a clay bank or in a hole of a rotting tree.  It begins the tunnel by flying into the bank or tree from a distance, ramming the earth or rotten wood with its bill outstretched. 


New Zealand Dotterel - Roberton Island

Native, found only in New Zealand.  Not common.  Makes its nest on a sandy beach in a shallow dip in the sand just above high tide next to a small landmark like a plant or piece of wood. Walks or runs, then stops and pecks to feed. Declining numbers mean some breeding sites are fenced off to protect them from people and animals.  Can live more than 30 years.


Black-Backed Gull - Urapukapuka Island

Nesting Black-Backed Gull - Whangaroa Harbour

Native. Very common.  The largest and most common of NZ's three sea gulls.  Found nearly everywhere from the shoreline to far above timberline.  Eats most anything, dead or alive, including new-born lambs and sick sheep. Even known to eat its own eggs and chicks.  Maori tamed them for use as pest control because they eat large caterpillars which damaged crops.  Sometimes tame birds are still used as snail abatement in city gardens. One of the few birds not protected in NZ.  Can live to 28 years.


Red-Billed Gull - Opua

Native.  Common.  Often seen on or near the coast but occasionally found inland too.  Near Rotorua the webbing between their toes may dissolve in the alkaline thermal waters.  They are useful cleaners as they often feed on scraps from fishing boats, meat works, overflowing rubbish cans and around supermarkets.  They can live at least 28 years. 


Pukeko -  Tutukaka, Waitangi

Native.  Common. Mainly a swamp bird, also found along roadsides and open farmland.  Unafraid of cars and is often struck. Feathers were used by Maori to decorate traditional flax cloaks. Lives 9 years.

White-Faced Heron - Haruru River

Native. Very common.  Flew to NZ from Australia but did not breed here until 1941.  NZ's most common heron.  Found in estuaries, rivers, lakes and farmland


California Quail - Waitangi

Introduced.  Common.  Arrived in NZ in the 1860's.  Now common in open country with low scrub.  Runs along the ground before taking off with a noisy flutter of wings.  Lives more than 11 years.


Mutant Male Mallard?

Mallards - Takapuna

Introduced.  Very common.  Male is more brilliantly colored.  Found in park ponds, farms, rivers, estuaries and along sandy beaches. They love holiday parks!  Can be tame enough to be fed by hand.  Were first brought here for sport from Britain in the 1960's and later from the US. Can live more than 26 years.


Fantail - Haruru Falls to Waitangi Track

Native.  Very common. Found in forests, scrubs, gardens, anywhere there are trees.  Enters houses in summer looking for flies.  Enjoys bathing in the spray of garden hoses.  May settle on shoulders, heads or outstretched hands. Attracted by rubbing a cork on a wet bottle. Suddenly switches direction in flight to snap up flying insects.  Because of these jerky movements, Maori described a restless person as being like a fantail.  The oldest one found in NZ was 3 years old.


Barbary Dove - Opua

Introduced.  Uncommon.  Introduced as a caged bird, some have escaped and established isolated flocks on both islands.  Considered a pest in Australia, wild birds there should be reported as larger flocks could affect agriculture. They seem so sweet and gentle to me, always near their mate which they have for life.  Can live to 12 years.


Blackbird - Gulf Harbour

Introduced. New Zealand's most common bird.  This is a female blackbird which is more brown than black. The male is shiny black with bright orange beaks.  It hops along the ground and can be found crouching on the ground with wings spread to sunbathe or squatting among ants with outstretched wings stimulating the insects to squirt formic acid into its feathers as an insecticide to control mites and lice.  Sometimes it picks up ants and places them under its wing feathers.  Known to attack its own reflection in a window.  Can live for about 20 years.


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