Birds of New Zealand

June 18, 2014

in Academic Year 2013-2014, New Zealand, Oceania, Scott Hennelly

Dear Reader,

This post has taken me AGES to complete, but it is finally finished! As I’ve made my way through the native bush of New Zealand this past year, I’ve been luck enough to capture some images of the unique birds that live on these islands. Without any natural predators, the birds of New Zealand dominate (the only native mammal here is a bat about the size of a mouse). And the people of New Zealand take pride in these birds. Heck, they even call themselves Kiwis after the fuzzy, flightless bird that runs around at night. So I want to take you on a journey… to the different regions of New Zealand to discover the unique features and personalities of these birds.

We start our journey in Northland where a very strange noise is coming from above. It sounds like a DJ on a turntable, remixing a combination of clicks, scratches, groans, grunts, and chimes. Is there a party out here in the bush? Nope, it’s just the musically talented Tui bird. Like the Kiwi, Tuis are an icon of New Zealand. They can be found all over and are most well-known for their incredible songs. If you listen to one, it is hard to believe that a single bird is capable of making so many different noises. No surprise then that Tuis come equipped with two voice boxes. So keep your eyes up and ears open for the remix-master Tui.

Tui

Tui

Give a listen to a Tui here:

Next we make our way to the center of the North Island where we are welcomed by a very sociable bird, the Fantail. Like the name suggests, the tails of these birds open up into a fan…. and they are not afraid to show it. Fantails are extremely friendly, with their ‘cheet cheet’ call and sporadic flying acrobatics. They don’t seem to be afraid of people either; rather, they are quite curious as to what you are doing. And maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll get one to pose on your hand like a friendly Fantail did for my friend Kyle.

Fantail

Fantail & Kyle Fantail & Kyle

As we hop over to the South Island, you may hear something snooping around in the bushes. Is it a Kiwi!?! Close, but not quite. This bird is the Weka, another flightless bird of New Zealand that you can see poking around for food during the day. These guys are a bit shy though, so don’t expect to be bombarded with attention like from a Fantail. Rather, just throw some food out into a grassy clearing and watch as a Weka slowly creeps out, retrieves the gift, and quickly finds his way back to the safety of the bush.

Weka

Baby Weka

Baby Weka

The west coast of the South Island is known for its high rainfall, so make sure to bring your gumboots! Here we might find the Pūkeko, whose long legs make it easy to wade through the swamps and paddocks that he calls home. Aggressive, bold, and territorial, the Pūkeko has done well against introduced predators like cats and possums that have made conservation problems for other birds. Maybe it has something to do with that intimidating red beak and long, lanky legs.

Pūkeko

Pūkeko

In the South Island city of Wanaka, we’re likely to see families enjoying the afternoon together by the lakeshore. It’s also likely to see one family in the water too—a family of Paradise shelducks. These birds are found all over New Zealand, but no matter where you see them, you always see a male and female together. The male (who has a black head) and female (white head) form long-term pairs, often lasting for life, and return to the same nesting area year after year. They also share the parenting of their ducklings, making them New Zealand’s perfect family.

Paradise Shelducks

Paradise Shelducks

Ducklings

Ducklings

We’ve now arrived in Fiordland National Park, known for its amazing Alpine scenery. As much as we want to rush out of our car and take some pictures, we must be careful… there are Keas ready to cause some mischief. Being the only alpine parrot in the world, Keas are incredibly smart, curious, and notorious for making trouble. They have been called the ‘clown of the mountains’ for taking things out of peoples’ backpacks and off of their cars. Although highly entertaining to watch, make sure they don’t get into your car!

Keas

Keas


To see our last bird, we have to travel back 600 years before the arrival of Europeans when the islands still belonged to the Māori. Here we’ll find the king of all birds, the moa. Larger than todays ostrich and emu, the two largest species of moa could reach a height of 12ft and weight over half a ton! Sadly, this size became their downfall as they became easy targets for Māori hunters. Evidence of this amazing bird can be seen throughout New Zealand though.

Moa

Moa

Moa bones

Moa bones

There you have it—on our journey around New Zealand we’ve come across some interesting characters: a DJ, an acrobat, a shy guy, a swamp dweller, the ideal parents, a clown, and a giant. For those of you coming to New Zealand, I encourage you get keep a lookout for these incredible birds. They are a glimpse into a much more natural and primitive New Zealand.

Cheers,

Scott

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