Birding in New Zealand


When Captain Cook arrived in the 1770’s he wrote that the bird song in the wild forests was deafening (wikipedia).

Amazed by the plethora of sounds these days, it is unimaginable what used to be.

NZ Birds At Risk

Since human settlement 700 years ago, 42 percent of NZ’s terrestrial birds have gone extinct. (TerraNature Trust).

Seven levels are used to classify the threat of extinction of a species:

  • Least Concern,
  • Near Threatened,
  • Vulnerable,
  • Endangered,
  • Critically Endangered,
  • Extinct in the Wild,
  • Extinct.

Today, New Zealand has 200 native bird species, some found nowhere else in the world. We found them in forest canopies to bird sanctuaries, penguin blinds and on the sea.

Flightless Birds

Takahē (vulnerable) – Thought to be extinct, the takahē was rediscovered in 1940 in remote mountains. Their total population is around 300, with 130 in the wild. Ill-equipped to deal with predators, they freeze when threatened. The family below was in the Te Anou Bird Sanctuary.

Kiwi Birds (classified as vulnerable)

NZ’s national icon is rarely seen. The kiwi bird is nocturnal and speedy on the ground. The football shaped bird lays a giant egg, about a quarter of its body weight, equivalent to a human giving birth to a 4-year old child.(

Weka (vulnerable)

About the size of a chicken, the weka is bold and can be a nuisance. One nonchalantly climbed across my legs into my lap on the beach.


Little Blue Penguin (threatened). The world’s smallest penguin (13″ and 3 lbs), their population is declining in areas not protected from predators (dogs, cats and stoats).

These clips are from Antarctica Centre Christchurch.

Yellow Eyed Penguin (endangered – possibility of local extinction in 20-40 years). Tall with pink feet and a pale yellow band of feathers around yellow eyes.

Penguin Place on the Otago Peninsula has penguins in rehab.

Seabirds / Shorebirds

In Kaikōura the Royal and Wandering Albatross were competitive with petrels and gulls over the chum.

Plunge-Diving BIrds – In Napier a gannet colony of 5,000 pairs nest on the headland of Cape Kidnappers. Typically gannets breed on offshore islands.

Clumsy on land and notorious for crash landings, they dive straight into the sea at 60 mph. They have distinctive coloring and a 2-meter wingspan.

Oyster Catcher – a coastal bird with a long bright orange bill, often seen in pairs probing for shellfish on beaches or estuaries.


Noisy Kea – Otarohangi Native Bird Park, North Island

Kea (endangered – numbers have dwindled to between 3000 and 7000). The world’s only alpine parrot is intelligent, a troublemaker, and clever at stealing food. We saw them at Arthur’s Pass and sanctuaries.

Kea Photo Credits:

Listen to the songbirds in the overhead trees – On Ulva Island – South Island

Parrot Place – Kerikeri

Waterfowl – Te Anou Sanctuary

Blue Duck/Wiho – vulnerable – declining population. Clyde (below) works as a conservationist sniffing and pointing out Wiho. He frowned when we walked past without a pat or treat.

Pukeko – in some areas considered an agricultural or garden pest as they pull-up and eat planted vegetables and crops

Paradise Shelduck (not threatened), beautiful and chatty.

Common Birds

The Tui has a lot to say – Kaiteriteri
Black Robin – Found at Lake Matheson, South Island
Extremely cranky seagulls – North Island

Sanctuaries and Reserves

Sanctuaries protect many of the same parrots and birds that also live freely on reserves. A few recommendations:

  • Ulva Island – a predator-free nature reserve off Stewart Island, South Island
  • Punanga Manu o Te Anau / Te Anau Bird Sanctuary, South Island
  • Queens Park Aviary – Invercargill, South Island
  • Parrot Place – Kerikeri, North Island
  • Otorohangi Kiwi and Native Bird Park, North Island
  • Zealandia – Wellington, North Island

Predator-Free NZ is a 2050 goal

Until humans arrived, there were no native predator mammals. Some birds grew large, losing their ability to fly. Conservationists work toward eradication of possum, stoats, and rats that prey on flightless birds.

“…you don’t know what you’ve got, ’til it’s gone.” Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

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1 thought on “Birding in New Zealand

  1. Gorgeous pictures and videos. What a wonderful idea for a post. I smiled my way through this and wondered how I had missed so much when I was in NZ. Thank you! xo

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