Native New Zealand Birds

Before humans settled in New Zealand large areas of flourishing native bush maintained an unbelievable variety of bird life. As they evolved, wings became needless for some birds, as they had no natural predators to fly away from.


The kiwi is New Zealand's national icon. New Zealanders have been 'Kiwis' since the days of the First World War. Kiwis cannot fly; have loose, hair-like feathers and long whiskers. They are largely nocturnal and are the only bird known to have nostrils at the end of its very long bill. All kiwis are threatened with extinction, and several kiwis are critically threatened. The rowi and the Haast tokoeka are our most threatened kiwis. Different types of kiwis can be found all over New Zealand in remote areas.


New Zealand's moa was the only wingless bird ever known. Maori hunted moa, and it is believed the birds became extinct around 400 years ago. Many moa bones and skeletons have been found in small caves which the moas fell into. There were eleven species of moa, the tallest was known as the giant moa, standing up to three metres.


The kea is one of the most playful and smartest birds in the world. They enjoy attacking cars to steal a windscreen wiper or other bits of rubber. Keas are only found in the South Island of New Zealand, especially around ski areas.


The weka is a flightless bird with a weakness for shiny objects. Wekas are usually heard, not seen, although some get a reputation for stealing food and other small objects. They will take the objects to the nearest cover to investigate them. For this reason it is best not to chase weka.


The takahe has a gorgeous indigo plumage and bright red beak. The takahe was believed to be extinct until it was miraculously 'rediscovered' in 1948 by New Zealand ornithologist Dr G.B. Orbell. Takahes have lived over 20 years in captivity but in the wild few birds reach this age.


The tui has a beautiful song, and a white 'parson's collar'. Tuis are common throughout New Zealand in forests, towns and on off-shore islands. Tuis are unique to New Zealand and belong to the honeyeater family, which means they feed mainly on nectar from flowers of native plants.

Morepork Owl

The morepork is New Zealand's only surviving native owl. The morepork owl is named because of the sound of its call, often heard at night. Its Maori name, ruru, is also named after its call.


Bellbirds are unique to New Zealand. They have a melodious song, which Captain Cook described as sounding 'like small bells exquisitely tuned'. Bellbirds are well camouflaged; females are olive-brown, with a slight blue shine on the head and a pale yellow cheek stripe. Males are olive green, with tones of purple on their heads and black outer wing and tail feathers.


Known for its friendly call and energetic flying activities, the fittingly named fantail is one of the most common and widely distributed native birds on the New Zealand mainland. It is easily recognized by its long tail which opens to a fan.


The kakapo is one of New Zealand's unique 'treasures' and with only 122 known surviving birds it is listed internationally as a critically endangered species. Kakapos are large, flightless and nocturnal; they are an eccentric parrot which can live for decades.


New Zealand could be called the penguin capital of the world; New Zealand has more penguin species on the shores than any other country. Penguins are a unique group of flightless seabirds that are at home on land and in the sea. Species that breed on the New Zealand mainland include: Yellow-eyed penguin/hoiho, Fiordland crested penguin/tawaki and Blue penguin/Korora.