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  • Native Birds of New Zealand

Native Birds of New Zealand

Native Birds of New Zealand

New Zealand Robin Photo taken by: Chrys Tre (Flying Kiwi Traveller)

Native Birds of New Zealand

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New Zealand is a very beautiful place and it also has a very unique history as it was one of the last large land masses on earth to be discovered by humans. Maori were Polynesian explorers who settled New Zealand sometime around 1250-1300AD, Europeans arrived only a few hundred years after that with a brief visit by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman before Captain James Cook landed and explored both Islands on his voyage in 1769.

Before Humans arrived New Zealand's wildlife had been developing for many thousands of years in many strange and unique ways. Both Islands were completely free of any mammals apart from fur seals and one species of native bat. Today things look quite a bit different, with the arrival of Maori came the first introduced species, rats. The Maori also took a liking to Moa, a huge flightless bird which would have been larger than an ostrich, which they used as a primary food source and eventually hunted to extinction before the Europeans ever got to New Zealand. 

Europeans brought with them more rats and mice on their ships and as they started to move in they brought with them cows, sheep, rabbits, deer, possums, stoats, dogs and cats. Suddenly the eco-system that had been evolving slowly for thousands of years was under threat. Quite a few more species of bird would go extinct before us humans figured out that we were responsible for disrupting the natural order of things on these far away islands. 

Today many of New Zealand's birds are under serious threat and many are under strict management by the department of conservation, a government funded operation that maintains our national parks, scenic reserves and wildlife. Many of our native birds are shy, nocturnal or in such low numbers you'll be hard pushed to find them in the wild or they are protected offshore on small islands.

If you look beyond the farmland and past the people walking their dogs you'll see that New Zealand really is a land of birds or at least it should be! When we are travelling around New Zealand we like to look out for a few species of birds that are more common but no less unique than the birds that are unfortunately to rare to see. Some birds in New Zealand are native, some are introduced and some come and go with the seasons but in this article we have included some of our favourite native birds that you're likely to come across during you trip with us. 

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The Tui is an iconic New Zealand native that you'll be able to spot almost anywhere in New Zealand except perhaps the Canterbury region. Tui's are predominantly black and dark blue and have an iridescent shine when the light catches the feathers at the right angle. One of the most obvious features of the bird is the white tuft on its neck.

To spot a Tui you'll first be listening out for its long and loud vocal range. The bird has quite a unique call variation that includes whistling and chirping followed by cackles and clicks and everything in between. Once you hear the loud call you may hear it flying through the trees as it also makes quite a bit of noise when in flight.

The name Tui is a Maori word thought to be related to its song. The word Tui was one of the first Maori words that was integrated into English. 



These tiny little birds are named after their long tail that, as the name suggests, is often displayed fanned out. The fantail is common throughout New Zealand and you'll likely hear a quiet 'cheet cheet' while walking along hiking trails. Although sometimes it feels like a fantail might land on your shoulder or is following you down the track it's most likely feeding on small insects that you have unknowingly disturbed by walking past. 

The Maori name for the fantail is Piwakawaka, pi is often used as a prefix for small birds and wakawaka is related to the fantail's quiet chirping. 

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The Kea is the worlds only alpine parrot and only lives in the high mountains of New Zealand. Although the Kea is considered endangered we often see them when we travel to Milford Sound on our summer tours. During winter it is also likely you'll see a Kea hanging out at New Zealand ski fields. The birds are highly intelligent, curious and often considered playful although contact with humans isn't always considered beneficial to the birds.

Kea have evolved in an alpine environment where they are found foraging for food and so like to dig and peck at soft materials such as rubber seals on cars and reflectors on buses. It's quite a treat to see these beautiful birds during our tours but it's important to remember the birds are endangered and so keeping our distance is very important as well as making sure we do not feed them as association with humans can lead to harm plus our food often isn't good for them.

The name Kea is a Maori word relating to its loud easily recognisable call. The word has since been integrated into English. 

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The mighty New Zealand wood pigeon! Yes we know, you've probably seen a pigeon before but these beautiful birds are a far cry from the small pigeons living in cities around the world. The Kereru is a large green and white bird that is common and widespread in New Zealand and a bird that plays an important roll in spreading seeds of native forest plants. 

You'll likely see these birds flying loudly from tree to tree often in quite a clumsy manner as it's thought that by eating partially rotted fruit they often get a little tipsy if they have a few too many fermented berries. 

The name Kereru is thought to be linked to its cooing call and the English name is just an accurate description of the bird however Kereru is often used by New Zealanders. 

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The Weka is a flightless, endemic species of bird here in New Zealand that unfortunately is becoming increasingly rare although they are quite common on the South Islands West Coast. Quite often our clients will mistake the birds for kiwi however it is quite obvious to us when passengers tell us they have seen a kiwi on the beach in the middle of the day that it was probably a Weka but it's pretty cool to see a small flightless bird marching around for the first time.

We usually run into these guys at our campgrounds along the West Coast as they are quite curious and keen to see what we're having for dinner. It's probably a good idea to zip up your tent too or you might be chasing them out before you get in yourself to go to bed.


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Another common bird that you'll be able to see country wide is the Pukeko. This popular bird is featured in many aspects of kiwi culture from Maori stories to children's books this humble bird is definitely one of New Zealand's most recognisable natives. 

The Pukeko is often see in the wet ditches by the side of the road or in waterlogged fields and is easy to spot with its red face and black and blue feathers. The only other bird you could get it confused with is the much larger, flightless and incredibly rare Takahe. 

The name Pukeko is Maori with Pu being a prefix for birds and keko meaning to squint which is thought to be a reference to the way pukeko's pick up food and then looks at it sideways. 

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This small green bird is often hard to spot in amongst the native bush of New Zealand. You are however quite likely to hear the Bellbird before you see it as the birds song is a major part of the famed New Zealand bird chorus. During the early morning as the sun comes up we are usually blessed with a fantastic bird song as all the birds begin to wake up. The Bellbird's song is quite distinct among the noise and this is where it gets its name from as part of its song sounds like the methodical ringing of a bell. 

The Bellbird is similar to the Tui for having quite a big variation in the song and the two birds are quite often mistaken for each other until you finally spot them up in the branches of trees where they are easily identified. 

The Maori name is Korimako although it is not clear if there is any meaning behind this. The English name refers to part of its song and so is a fitting name.