Interesting Native Birds to Look Out for in New Zealand
New Zealand‘s main wildlife population on land are birds. By evolving on islands away from land predators, native New Zealand birds are among some of the most fascinating species. In Aotearoa, you have the opportunity to meet inquisitive birds, colourful birds, birds singing beautiful melodies, and flightless birds that look like they are from the Jurassic Age. Take a look at this list of some of the native birds in New Zealand so you know what to look out for!
Find out more about the wildlife found in New Zealand with our 21 Animals and Birds Unique to New Zealand, as well as the 10 Things You Did Not Know About New Zealand Wildlife.
New Zealand’s most famous bird, the kiwi population is actually in a state of decline due to introduced predators such as dogs, stoats and cats. Kiwi are flightless birds and feed by walking slowly, probing the ground and sniffing loudly with their long beak. Once a worm or an insect is sniffed out, they plunge their long bill deep into the ground to retrieve their prize. While kiwi are in some wild forested areas around New Zealand, you’re best chances of seeing them are with guides and in captivity in conservation centres. See the 20 Best Places to See a Kiwi Bird in New Zealand and Where to See Kiwi Birds in New Zealand for more advice.
These forest parrots are found in conservation areas, pest-free islands around New Zealand, as well as abundantly in the wild in forests in Fiordland and Stewart Island. Kaka strip tree bark to expose sap, grub and other nutritious insects that live underneath. These large parrots also make a range of sounds, from harsh “scracks” to melodious whistles.
3. Fantail (Piwakawaka)
These acrobatic insect-eaters are probably the bird you’re most likely to see in New Zealand out of every bird on this list. The fantail, also known as a piwakawaka, may dart around you as you are walking in the forests or even in parks in urban areas. While it might look like they are being friendly, it’s actually opportunism; the fantail is trying to catch flying insects you disturb as you walk.
One of the key songbirds of the New Zealand forests, and often mistaken for the bellbird and vice versa, tui are relatively numerous and seen in many forests across the whole of New Zealand. They are easily identifiable by the tuft of white feathers on their chest. Tui aggressively chase other birds away from their food, which consists of nectar, fruit and insects. Tui are important for the New Zealand ecosystem, spreading seeds and pollinating plants as they feed from plant to plant.
5. Robin (Toutouwai)
Also known as the toutouwai, New Zealand robins are split into three different subspecies: the North Island robin, the South Island robin and the Stewart Island robin. Often seen in New Zealand forests, especially in conservation areas where pest trapping occurs, robins are super inquisitive and will not be afraid to come close. They often follow people, eating insects disturbed by footfall.
Find out ways you can help protect these birds’ habitat in the 10 Ways to Protect New Zealand’s Forests.
6. Woodpigeon (Kereru)
Larger than your average street pigeon, New Zealand woodpigeons, or kereru, have shimmering green feathers. If you don’t see a woodpigeon swooping or diving through the gaps in the forest, then you might just hear the whooshing and flapping of their flight. They are noisy fliers, which they use to communicate with other kereru.
Learn more fun facts in the 10 Things You Did Not Know About New Zealand Wildlife.
7. Bellbird (Korimako)
Often the key songbird of many forests in New Zealand, bellbirds are plentiful in New Zealand because they are aggressive and produce plenty of young. Bellbirds, otherwise known as korimako, are nectar feeders so look out for bellbirds eating honeydew up blackened tree trunks and flax flowers during summer.
8. Tomtit (Ngirungiru)
This small bird is another inquisitive bird that is likely to fly straight up to you and check you out. Tomit males are stark black and white while females are a duller grey-brown. Pairs are often seen together. They feed in the understorey by perching on a branch or trunk and scanning. Once an insect is spotted, the tomtit quickly pounces on it. Tomtits are also known in te reo Maori as ngirungiru.
Seen more frequently in the South Island and Stewart Island than in the North Island, weka are quite bold when exposed to people. These flightless birds are opportunists, feeding mostly on insects, bird eggs, lizards, other birds (usually carrion) and whatever might look yummy on your backpack if you leave it lying around. Although weka may seem tame, they are wild and need to forage for themselves so please do not feed them.
10. Silvereye (Pihipihi)
These small green-feathered birds are named after the white ring around their eyes. Silvereyes, also known as waxeye or pihipihi, travel in large vociferous flocks that you’re more likely to hear before seeing them. Look out for them in forests or any bushy areas in urban areas of New Zealand where they mostly stick to the tops of the tree canopy. Pihipihi are also nectar feeders.
11. Brown Creeper (Pipipi)
Their high-pitched cheeping makes brown creepers easy to hear as they feed in flocks in the forests. In summer, a melodic breeding call is added to the noise. Only the dominant male and female will breed, while a number of helpers will assist in feeding the chicks. The brown creeper is also known as a pipipi.
12. Yellowhead (Mohua)
As the name suggests, yellowheads are bright yellow birds. They are small in size and come together in large flocks during winter. In summer, they separate out into breeding territories. During this time, you can also hear the “buzz” call of the female. Another name for a yellowhead is mohua.
13. Saddleback (Tieke)
This medium-sized bird is most commonly seen on pest-free islands and areas of extensive conservation work. The North Island and South Island saddlebacks are also known as tieke. Only adult birds have the distinct black colouring and red “saddle” over their back, which the South Island birds take a lot longer to develop than their North Island counterparts.
14. Oystercatcher (Torea-pango)
Oystercatchers, or torea, are seen along many of the beaches of New Zealand, often seen in pairs. Be careful as you walk along the beaches, as oystercatchers lay their speckled eggs in a nest of scraped-out sand. Oystercatchers defend their nest vigorously and are known to lead predators away with a broken wing display.
15. Grey Warbler (Riroriro)
Otherwise known as riroriro, the grey warbler is better known for its catchy melodies than its small and dull-brown appearance. Due to their colouring and the way that they flit between branches to catch their food on their wings, they are difficult to spot. The sounds that grey warblers make are extremely different throughout the country, as they are said to have different dialects.
16. New Zealand Parakeet (Kakariki)
Also known as kakariki, which means “small parrot”, New Zealand parakeet comes in different subspecies, most commonly the red- and yellow-crowned parakeet. Although it can be hard to spot kakariki in the wild, you can sometimes hear their high-pitched chatter which sounds like manic laughter. At certain times of the year, some kakariki feed on fallen seeds on the ground, which is only made possible in pest-free areas.
17. Shining Cuckoo (Pipiwharauroa)
The shining cuckoo and its close relative the long-tailed cuckoo are a bird found across the South Pacific. They visit New Zealand each spring to lay their eggs in the nests of grey warblers, brown creepers and yellowheads. The eggs hatch quickly and are raised as adopted nestlings. Shining cuckoos are also known as pipiwharauroa.
18. Rifleman (Titipounamu)
Rifleman are New Zealand’s most ancient and smallest birds only weighing about 5 grams (that’s 0.18 oz)! They have green feathers and are quite hard to spot as they dart like ping-pong balls across the forest. Rifleman, also called titipounamu, are abundant in many New Zealand forests so are still a regular sighting on hikes if you keep an eye out.
19. Morepork (Ruru)
Morepork, or ruru, are one of New Zealand’s only surviving owl species. As nocturnal creatures, morepork can be hard to spot, but it’s still possible to see them sleeping in branches camouflaged by their mottled bark-like colouring. They are predators, so they are often the reason for the alarm calls of small birds once they are discovered.
Not only the world’s only alpine parrot but the kea can only be found in New Zealand’s South Island. It is known for its intelligence and mischievous behaviour, often causing damage to cars and buildings in search of food or just for fun. Kea birds have green plumage with orange feathers under their wings and a curved beak. They are highly social and curious birds, making them a popular attraction for wildlife enthusiasts. However, they are also considered at risk due to habitat loss and predation.
10 Tips for Bird Watching in New Zealand
Bird watching in New Zealand can be a rewarding experience due to the country’s unique and diverse avian species. To enhance your birdwatching adventure in New Zealand, consider these 10 tips:
1. Research Bird Species: Familiarise yourself with the native and endemic bird species of New Zealand, such as the kiwi, kea, takahe and more. Knowing what to look for will make spotting them easier.
2. Timing Matters: Bird activity can vary with the time of day and season. Early morning and late afternoon are often the best times for birdwatching. Spring and summer are typically more active seasons.
3. Visit Diverse Habitats: New Zealand offers a wide range of habitats, from forests to wetlands and coastlines. Explore different ecosystems to maximise your chances of spotting various bird species.
4. Bring Binoculars: Good quality binoculars are essential for getting a closer look at birds from a distance. Invest in a pair with a comfortable grip and appropriate magnification.
5. Stay Quiet and Patient: Birds are easily startled by noise and movement. Keep a low profile, move slowly and avoid sudden movements to increase your chances of observing them.
6. Field Guide and Apps: Carry a field guide or use birdwatching apps like iBird NZ to help identify birds you encounter. These resources provide valuable information on bird calls, behaviours and habitats.
7. Backtrack: Often when walking you will stir up bugs on the floor which in turn attracts birds to feed on them. Always look behind you and backtrack a few steps on quiet tracks.
8. Join a Local Birding Group: Consider joining a local birdwatching group or guided tour. Experienced birders can share their knowledge and help you locate and identify birds.
9. Respect Wildlife and Environment: Stay on designated trails, avoid disturbing nests or young birds, and don’t feed wildlife. Leave no trace of your visit and adhere to local conservation guidelines.
10. Keep a Journal: Document your birdwatching experiences by taking notes and sketches in a journal. This can be a valuable resource for future trips and contribute to your understanding of New Zealand’s avian diversity. You can also share photos and findings with the DOC and on Facebook Groups dedicated to the subject.
Remember that New Zealand has strict biosecurity laws to protect its native wildlife, so be sure to clean your gear and footwear thoroughly to prevent the spread of diseases or invasive species before visiting. Happy birdwatching in New Zealand!
More About New Zealand Native Birds
That’s it for our list of fascinating native birds in New Zealand. For more bird talk, check out these related articles:
- 5 Ways to Save a Kiwi Bird
- 10 Best Wildlife Activities in New Zealand
- 10 Best Bird Sanctuaries in New Zealand
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in Wildlife Encounter in New Zealand: A Quick Guide to New Zealand Wildlife.