Birds of New Zealand

New Zealand has developed over a period of about 680 million years being seperated from Gondwana which split to become the continents  of Australia, Africa, South America and Antartica. New Zealand seperated before the development of mamals, snakes and hominoids, so preserving and developing a primordial landscape, vegetation and creatures. Some dinosaur species and a freshwater crocodile survived in the landscape until about 65 million years ago when the dinasours became extinct, with some survivours of that era such as the Tuatara continuing to modern times. The gap between New Zealand and Australia was able to be crossed easily until 60 million years ago when the isolation proper began. Natural disasters have had an effect on Flora and Fauna such as Ice ages Earthquakes Floods and Volcanic Eruptions. One notable event was the eruption which left Lake Taupo possibly about 180-185 AD, judged as about 10 times the power of the Krakatoa eruption of 1883. Tsunami from the Krakatoa eruption have been judged at up to 100 meters high.

 By 1770 some half of New Zealands bird species were already extinct due to the introduction of humans, rats, dogs, ferral cats, pig, deer, stoat, weasel and possums some 32 species of birds in total. The extinction of 9 species followed European discovery and animal introduction. There is evidence to suggest that the Polynesian rat became established as long ago as 2000 years ago. Perminent human occupation does not appear to have occured prior to about 1200ad.

I would like to hear from people prepared to have their photos scanned for consideration for this page. Credit will be given for photos displayed. 

Fantail Rhipidura fuliginosa16 cm 

  This young Fantail born in the city visits the same areas of the building at certain times of the day when there are flying insects. I was able to approach to about a meter to take these photos as fantails will hover around humans as they disturb insects. In seasons of plentiful food fantails may raise up to 4 or 5 broods in the period from August to March. 

Kea Nestor notabilis 46cm


The Kea is New Zealands Mountain Parrot, Normaly living above about 1000 meters it has a mischevious reputation, and will often be seen where humans gather. The one on the left was photographed at the Milford Sound end of the Homer Tunnel on a very wet cold day in 2004, conditions the birds seem to enjoy. Their actions can be quite comical this one was entertaining itself walking up and down a very slippery metal guardrail. The two on the right are at the lookout at the Viaduct on the Otira side of Arthurs Pass. Their mournful cries can often be heard in the mountains. Travelers by car need to be wary as they have very Sharp Claws and Beaks and like nothing better than to rip out the rubber seals on a vehicle. Right hand photos taken 2005 by Daniel Harding



The left hand pictures are taken in an excellent Pre-European display at the Canterbury Museum Rolleston Avenue Christchurch opposite the Art Center, entry next to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. The museum is well worth a visit, allow a full day to browse the unique exhibits it contains.  The left is a representation of how the moa may have appeared in the bush, on the right the skeletons of three of the species of moa. The Moa is a cousin of the Ostrich, Emu, Cassowary and Kiwi. Female Moa were up to three times larger than the male the greatest gender difference of any species of bird or animal. .

Giant Moa - this model represents the extinct Giant Moa Dinornis Maximus the largest of a race of flightless birds which once inhabited New Zealand. The Giant Moa grew to a maximum height of about 4 meters, it is now believed that Moas normally carried their necks and heads in a lower more relaxed position than in this model, But extended them upward for foraging high in the trees.  Moas fed on leaves and fruit of trees shrubs and vines of the forest. This moa sculpture was crafted by Bob McAuliffe of Greymouth in 1982 and is situated at Bealy near Arthurs Pass. The bones are at the Ngarua caves on Takaka hill, Motueka, and the part construction Marahau start of the Able Tasman track.

Moas were the largest birds that ever lived, they took about 10 years to reach their full height and several more years to reach sexual maturity a very long time for a bird. It is thought moas lived up to 50 years old.The Moa was hunted to extinction in about 100 years after  AD1200 when human migration commenced to New Zealand as reproduction rates made them vunerable to extinction as they had been largely predator free during ther development.

1 June 2005. Massey University evolutionary biologists led by Professor David Lambert have discovered 5 new species of Moa, including a 140kg giant, using pioneering DNA technology. Fourteen Moa types have now been Identified by taking bones from around the country and extracting DNA shavings. Samples are now being sought from overseas museums for more analysis with the strong possibility that more Moa species will be identified.

Rifleman Acanthisitta chloris 8cm


The rifleman is a very small fast bird in the forest and was Photographed at Basins Creek Hut Avoca Valley 15km south east of Arthurs Pass in April 2005, the left photo is a typical pose searching the mosses and lichens on a tree for insects.

Silvereye Zosterops lateralis 12cm


The silver eye introduced itself from Australia about 1856 and is widespread  throughout New Zealand. In the north they take insects from the Mangroves After the breeding season they form groups and move through gardens eating aphids caterpillars and scale insects. With their brush tongues they drink nectar from many flowering plants, just as this one was doing from a kowhai. The birds raise two or three broods a year, nesting from August to February, nests are composed of fine grasses, lichens and moss. Both sexes incubate the 3 or four pale blue eggs for 11 days, chicks fledging at 11 or 12 days old remaining with the family group until the next nest is built.  Photo by Alister Smith.

Takahe Phorphyrio mantelli 63cm

This is one of New Zealands Rarest birds The Takahe. The worlds largest Rail. Similar in stature, larger  and somewhat more ponderous, than the Pukeko this bird is in the wildlife conservation enclosure at Te Anau not far from where the birds were rediscovered in the 1948 in the Murcheson Mountains of Fiordland to the west of Te Anau. The enclosure is open to the public, and entry is by public donation.

Tomtit Petroica macrocephala 13cm

13 cm Photographed at The Pinnacles Harper Valley 15km east Arthurs Pass April 2005


Prostemadera novaseelandiae 30cm

A difficult bird to photograph as it usualy sits high in the tree tops, one of the few native birds to cope with human habitation. At Kaiteri January 2009.



Birds of the Estuary and Banks Peninsular

The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand have indicated that about 15 species are common and up to 25 frequent the estuary from time to time.

Shoveller Duck

Grey Duck -parera Is New Zealands Native Duck and is often confused with the female Mallard the female and male are indistinguishable.

New Zealand Scaup or Black Teal Aythya novaeseelandie 40cm -papango are diving ducks that are widespread throughout the world.

Taken on Humpries Drive Canal Reserve 2004 adaptions for diving are powerful feet set well back n the body and well rounded head. Diving ducks can obtain their food deeper than the Waders. They can remain submerged for up to 40 seconds, although most dives last only 15 seconds. The drake has bright golden eyes while the female and immature birds eyes are pale brown. Ducklings can dive immediately after hatching, and stay with their parents, although they catch their own food.

Mallard Duck was introduced to New Zealand in the late 1880's from Westurn Canada and Britain it is New Zealands most common Duck.

Paradise Shelduck Tadorna variegata 63cm -Putangitangi 

This Female paradise duck is unusualy tame and looking for a meal from Christchurch lunchtime office workers on the banks of the Avon

Widespread throughout New Zealand with about two thirds in the north Island. Population is estimated at about 130,000. Adult Paradise Females are easily recognised by their white head and chestnut body while the adult Drake and young are all dark.

Easturn Bartailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 40 cm-Kuaka 

Arrive in September and October from their northern hemisphere breeding grounds (Siberia & Alaska) and leave about the end of March, on a 10 day flight.

Canada Goose Branta canadensis 100cm

Once the weather gets colder and nears the shooting season Canada Geese appear in large numbers on the Sanctuary of the estuary Photo taken from the outlet of Canal Reserve near the windsurf parking lot.


Red-billed Gull Lasus novaehollandiae 37 cm & Black-billed Gull Lasus bulleri 37 cm -Tarapunga


This Parent and Chick were photographed on Sumner Head in 1985 by Alister Smith, access via Whitewash Head Road if you are fit, otherwise drive to the carpark at Nicholson Park and Take the walkway towards Taylors Mistake. 

Shades of the Picton / Cook Strait Fast ferry TV advert with these gulls sheltering from the Southerly on the jetty at the Mount Pleasant Yacht Club April 04.

Black-backed Gull Larus dominicanus 60cm

This Black backed Gull and its chick were photographed on the sea wall Beachville Road Redcliffs 2004. Young birds take 3 years to obtain adult markings.

Locals watched with interest in 2004 when this pair of Gulls nested within 5 meters of  one of the busiest roads in Christchurch the chicks hatched in December and were airborne late January 2005. Hearty Congratulations to Fahey Fencing Hire and Christchurch City Council for providing the protection for this pair.

White-faced Heron



South Island Pied Oystercatcher -Torea

Variable Oystercatcher -Toreapango

The variable oystercatcher can be from black to pied Black is more common in the south, they are coastal not inlland dwellers and are a threatened species.

New Zealand Wood Pigeon Hemiphaga novaseelandiae 51 cm

This bird was one of 3 photographed feasting on Tree Lucern flowers at Port Levy in 2004. Distinguished by their noisy flight they are reasonably common in the bush where food is plentiful.



A nervous Bird when approached on the canal reserve linwood and about to take off on its short flight out of danger. It is not often that a Pukeko is spotted with its Chick. These 2 were photographed at Willowbank Reserve in Christchurch. Their grass cutter action can be seen in the righthand photo.

The Pukeko is the most common Rail in NZ in 10 subspecies They are group nesters with up to 3 hens laying in one territory all birds helping with nest construction and incubation.The first Brood chicks helping out with subsequent broods. Food is shoot tips and roots of swamp plants, grain crops, worms, insects and shellfish.

Royal Spoonbill Platalea regia 78cm

Royal Spoonbills, taken on the island south of the causeway 2004 McCormacks bay Road in the background. Until 1975 few royal spoonbills inhabited New Zealand, since that time Numbers have increased dramaticaly.

Black Swan A game bird they appear on the estuary in large numbers before the 1st May shooting season starts.

Black Shag Phalacrocorax carbo 88cm

This bird may be a juvenile little Shag Phalacrocorax melanoleucos 56cm 

Taken on 25th June 2005 at 09:03 am on the jetty by the Yacht Club at Redcliffs. The picture was taken on a Canon EOS 20D using a 85mm lens, exposure was 250th sec @ f4.5 using a trace of fill flash, ISO 200. Photographer Richard Mitchell

White-throated Shag

These Shags are resting from their fishing at the Sumner Lifeboat Ramp at Bells Harbour Sumner. May 2004. Photo Alister Smith

Spotted Shag

Pied Stilt, Black Stilt

These birds caught on the ground and in flight.

Black Swan

Caspian Tern

White-fronted Tern Sterna striata 42cm

The White Fronted Tern is the most common tern being found through out New Zealand. In winter some birds migrate to Australia, they feed by scanning the sea and diving to capture small fish, as these birds at Beachville Road on the estuary were doing. The nest is a scrape in the ground with no added nesting material both parents share the incubation of one or two eggs, which hatch in about 25 days they remain in the nest for four days then join a creache  that is protected by different parents, becoming airborne at about 5 weeks.

Black-fronted Tern

Less common

Banded Dotterel


Black Oystercatcher

Reef Heron

White Heron Egretta alba 90cm


This white heron is a regular fisherman on the banks of the Canal Reserve near Humphries Drive in Christchurch, the photo taken by Alister Smith in May 2005 using a Cannon AE1 with 600mm Tokina lens.The birds nest at one location on the Banks of the Waitangiroto River near Okarito in South Westland. After the breeding season enda in late summer, they disperse throughout the country.

Pied Shag

Marsh Crake

I would like to hear from people prepared to have their photos of the area scanned for consideration for this page. Credit will be given for photos displayed.

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