A rare blue duck stands defiant on the Old Ghost Road | Brent Fagan
New Zealand is a bird watcher’s paradise. Getting out and about into the heart of the wilderness, the native forests and the alpine climates are some of the best places to spot some of our rare and unique native bird species. Species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world and many that are endangered even here in New Zealand due to the introduction of predators over time.
Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open as you walk the trails, and you never quite know what bird might greet you on your travels.
Here are our top 10 favourite NZ native birds.
The kiwi is New Zealand’s sweetheart and iconic world over as a true symbol of our native wildlife. But this brown, flightless bird is not easy to spot. Not only is it nocturnal, but it tends to reside in dense, forested regions. You will sooner be able to hear the kiwi than see it, due to its distinct call during the night.
Kea’s are not only endangered, but they are the world’s only alpine parrot found in alpine and forested environments of the South Island such as Fiordland National Park, along the West Coast and through Arthur’s Pass. They are also one of the most intelligent birds being known to turn on water taps, set off stoat traps to get the eggs and hiding behind trampers to protect themselves from being attacked by magpies.
3. Whio (Blue Duck)
The Blue Duck (Whio) are a treasured species that Maori have a strong cultural, spiritual and historic connection to, but they are at risk of becoming extinct. Found along the Heaphy and Old Ghost Road, these ducks are rarer than some species of kiwi. River specialists, they are one of the few waterfowl worldwide that live year round on fast-flowing rivers.
4. Kererū (New Zealand Wood Pigeon)
Pigeons are generally not classified as the most beautiful birds or the most clean for that matter, the Kererū is an exception. It is a large bird with iridescent green and bronze feathers (almost like a peacock in colouring) and a white body. The noisy flapping of their wings can be heard through forested trails along the West Coast.
Tui’s love flowers which makes perfect sense seeing as they belong to the honeyeater family, hence feeding on the nectar of native plants. They can be found anywhere in New Zealand where there are native forests, bush reserves or even bush remnants. The Tui is a copy-cat and can mimic sounds, even the calls of other birds.
The Piwakawaka or New Zealand Fantail is one of our most loved and best-known birds – and yes, so called because it’s tail spreads out like a little fan. Fantails will pop up just about anywhere, and unlike other bird species, are not shy, often flying right up to people. It has been one of New Zealand’s most adaptable bird species adapting to an environment that has been altered by humans and changing its habitat accordingly.
Often confused with NZ’s other native bird, the Pukeko, and thought to be its plumper cousin, the Takahe cannot fly, are much larger and more brightly coloured than their distant relative. They tend to reside in native grasslands (can be found on the Heaphy Hike) and are considered Nationally Vulnerable with only 418 birds thought to be in the wild.
The Morepork (also called the ruru) is known for its haunting, melancholic call and is New Zealand’s only remaining native owl species (although it must have flown a long way….as it can also be found in Tasmania in Australia). Common to forested areas, again they are more seen than they are heard especially if you are in the forest at dusk.
9. Bellbird (Korimako)
It sounds like a Tui with its very similar, melodic call, but when you see one, you instantly know it is not a Tui. Found in native forest regions, this green tinged feathered bird gets its name from its birdsong which according to Captain Cook sounding like ‘small bells exquisitely tuned’. But in fact, the birds have 3 distinct sounds and songs which vary depending on the region they reside in. They are often found close to the coast so Abel Tasman, Queen Charlotte and the West Coast are perfect for spotting them.
Rounding out the Top 10 is the Weka or known as the “woodhen” to the European settlers. The birds are brown and flightless just like the kiwi, but unlike the kiwi, they are known to have a feisty and curious personality. Weka’s will also steal things….so walkers beware. It’s best not to chase a Weka, but watch where it goes and retrieve anything that has been stolen for observation later.