Thousands of years ago New Zealand was a world of birds and forests. An isolated island nation, New Zealand is home to some of the world’s most unique and rare birdlife.
Our native forests sing with birdsong; native bellbirds, tui and saddlebacks creating a uniquely New Zealand melody. More than 80 kinds of seabirds breed on the New Zealand coastline, some migrating thousands of miles from the other side of the world. The country’s national emblem, the Kiwi, is perhaps New Zealand’s most famous bird; although endangered, it can be found in the wild in certain places. Birds bring colour to our National Parks and liveliness to our beaches.
New Zealand has a greater diversity of seabirds breeding on its shores and islands and feeding in its waters than any other country in the world. These birds get all or nearly all of their food from the sea; swooping, diving and snatching small fish, crabs and other sea life. The birds spend time on land while breeding before flying to other countries when their chicks are old enough to care for themselves.
The Albatross is perhaps the most majestic and interesting of all, with its wingspan of up to 3.7m. Renowned wanderers, they fly around 200,000 kilometres a year, travelling vast distances from their breeding grounds to feed. Fourteen different varieties breed in New Zealand – more than anywhere else in the world. The best places to catch a glimpse of these princely birds up close are Kaikoura and the Otago Peninsula.
New Zealand is home to three species of penguin; all of which are excellent divers. Some chase their prey – fish, krill, and squid – to depths of 100 metres or more. However, their grace in the water is not matched on land; their ungainly waddle and puffed out bellies belying their underwater prowess. Of the species found in New Zealand, the Little Blue Penguin – the world’s smallest – can be seen in Kaikoura, Akaroa Harbour and Stewart Island. The endangered Hoiho – or yellow-eyed penguin – is found on the Otago Peninsula and around the Catlins region, and the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin lives in rainforested areas of Haast, Stewart Island and Fiordland.
Other fascinating seabirds include petrels, terns and shearwaters; all are found on the Kaikoura coastline.
Birds of the Forest
Many of New Zealand’s native species have ancient origins; fascinating birdwatchers with their unusual feathers and unique melodic calls. Some are flightless, like the Kakapo, Takahe and Kiwi. A number of conservation areas exist on the mainland as well as on islands to protect many of New Zealand’s endangered native species.
The cheeky Kea is one of New Zealand’s most curious, lively birds. Found in alpine areas of the South Island, Kea are attracted to humans and are known for stealing anything they can get their beaks on. There are many stories of hikers taking their boots off when they reach camp, only to find a Kea trying to drag them away by the laces. Look out for its olive-green colour and impressive scarlet under wings.
Small, flightless and largely nocturnal, the Kiwi is New Zealand’s most-loved bird species. The size of a hen with a long beak and plumage more like hair than feathers, the Kiwi bird is thought to have evolved to occupy a habitat and lifestyle that would have usually been filled by a mammal – New Zealand has no native land mammals, making the environment safe for Kiwi before the arrival of introduced species’. See Kiwi in the wild in Northland or Stewart Island, or visit a breeding facility like the Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre.
Bellbirds and tui have the prettiest song in the forest; while the Kakapo is one of New Zealand’s most endangered treasures with only a few hundred still alive. The Yellowhead is a tiny bird found only in certain parts of the South Island and Stewart Island, its bright yellow plumage helping it stand out in the forest. Look out for New Zealand’s tiny native owl, the Morepork, known for its haunting, distinctive call. Many of these birds are found in wilderness areas throughout New Zealand.
Many of MoaTrek’s small group tours include unique and fascinating bird watching experiences – find out more here.