If you’re asked to think about things that make New Zealand the country that it is, birds were probably not the first things that came to mind. You probably thought of sheep, the haka or even ‘Lord of the Rings’. However, New Zealand has a vast array of bird species that make it a birdwatching hot spot.
With over 200 species of birds, and approximately 85 species being endemic, it’s easy to see why New Zealand is a birder’s paradise. Now that your interest has been piqued, it’s time to focus on all the information that you need to plan your next birding trip.
New Zealand is located in the South Pacific Ocean, nearly 2 000 km to the east of Australia. It is an island country that consists of two smaller islands, North and South. The country’s geography is immensely diverse including sprawling coastlines, subtropical forests, glaciers, mountains as well as a volcanic plateau. This vast landscape makes New Zealand the perfect haven for a variety of birds.
Since New Zealand is isolated from the rest of the world, much of its fauna and flora is unique, however this makes them vulnerable and many of New Zealand’s bird species are already endangered. At one point, the native kiwi outnumbered New Zealanders, however their numbers have dropped significantly, with only between 50 000 to 60 000 recorded in 2021. The main threats to the indigenous bird species are rats, stoats, and possums. None of which are native to the country.
Endemic birds of New Zealand
While the Kiwi is one of the most well-known birds that can be found in New Zealand, there are many more species that birders should be on the look-out for on their travels. Here are some of the birds that you can hope to see:
• The Auckland Rail is a fairly elusive bird that can be found on Adams and Disappointment Islands. These birds are extremely territorial. They are typically diurnal and can be found in areas of dense vegetation, either in tall grasses or more forested areas consisting of ferns and sedges. The Auckland Rail has the ability to fly, however, it is not common for them to do so.
• The Auckland Teal is a flightless bird which can be found on the Auckland Islands. This bird tends to frequent the shore, streams or wetland areas. The Auckland Teal is fairly common; however, they are not normally seen in large numbers.
• The Bellbird, or Korimako, is a honeyeater than is commonly found throughout New Zealand. These birds live in almost any area, including forests, scrublands, farmlands, and urban areas. While they typically feed on nectar, they do also eat fruit, spiders, and insects. When looking for the bellbird, make sure to pay attention as it looks a lot like the greenfinch, but there are some key differences that you can use to tell them apart. The bellbird is larger, darker, and usually has blue or purple colouring on its head.
• The Grey Warbler, also known as a Riroriro or Rainbird, can be found in almost every part of the country, as long as there are wooded areas. The Grey Warbler is also one of New Zealand’s smallest species of bird. While this species can be found throughout New Zealand, it does tend to spend most of its time in dense vegetation. So, there is a chance that you may be able to hear it, more than see it.
• The New Zealand Falcon is distributed throughout North and South Island. This species of bird tends to nest in any habitat from the coast to the forest, as well as rural farmlands. The New Zealand Falcon is roughly the size of a magpie, with short, rounded wings and a long tail. Its diet normally consists of smaller birds; however, they sometimes hunt birds larger than itself such as poultry or pheasants. In some circumstances, the New Zealand Falcon will also hunt mammals such as rabbits or hares.
• The New Zealand Scaup is a type of diving duck that can be seen scattered throughout New Zealand. While they can be found on almost any body of water, they do not occur on Stewart or Chatham Islands. Scaups are very social and are often spotted in large groups or with other species of bird such as coots, shovelers, or crested grebes.
• The Weka, also known as a Woodhen, is one of the larger species of flightless bird found in New Zealand. There are many different variations that can be found on the smaller islands. The Weka is a very unusual bird as it is known for approaching people either out of curiosity or in search of food. This species of bird has been threatened in the past, however, their numbers are reported to be stabilising now. The Weka is also omnivorous, normally feeding on fruit, invertebrates, small mammals, birds, eggs, or lizards.
Read more about the endemic birds of New Zealand on Wikipedia.
Other notable New Zealand birds
During your time in New Zealand, you may also be able to see the following birds. However, these birds may be harder to come across depending on their conservation status.
• Chatham Island Tui: Vulnerable
• Kakapo: Nationally critical
• Kea: Nationally endangered
• New Zealand Dabchick: Increasing
• New Zealand Pipit: Declining
• North Island Kaka: Recovering
• Northern Rock Wren: Nationally critical
• Orange-fronted Parakeet: Nationally critical
• South Island Takahe: Vulnerable
• Stitchbird: Vulnerable
• Yellow-eyed Penguin: Nationally endangered
• Yellowhead: At risk
Where to watch birds
There are numerous places to go birding in New Zealand, here are just a few places to help you plan your trip:
• Waipu Estuary
• South Kaipara Peninsula lakes
• Whangapoua Estuary
• Pureora Forest Park
• Queen Charlotte Sound and White Rocks
• Karori Wildlife Sanctuary
New Zealand’s rich and diverse birdlife makes it a must-see destination for any serious birder. The country offers an abundance of locations teeming with birds, which means that there is certainly no shortage of places for you to visit. Make sure to invest in a good bird book before your trip, as this article mentions only some of the many species of bird that can be found throughout the country. This will ensure that you will make the most of your birding experience in New Zealand.