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The wonders behind New Zealand's native birds

Since Aotearoa drifted away from the super continent millions of years ago, our islands have become home to some of the most wonderful and unique fauna worldwide. Visitors flock from all corners of the globe to learn about our native wildlife, which is quite unlike that found elsewhere on our planet. Read on to learn what makes some of our most popular birds so special. You might just learn something you never knew about our treasured feathered friends.

Bellbird / Korimako

Bellbird image by Craig McKenzie

These small but perfectly formed birds frequent the tree tops nationwide. They are known for their sweet and high pitched voice, which was once described by Captain Cook as sounding ‘like small bells exquisitely tuned’. A bellbird’s favourite food is nectar and their brush-like tongue helps them to delve into nectar flowers to reach the sweet stuff, but they also feed on fruits and insects. By feeding on nectar they play a pivotal role in our ecosystem by helping to pollinate our native trees and plants. Who ever said enjoying a sweet treat was a bad thing?

Males and females are different colours, with the males donning olive green feathers with paler underparts, a purple tint to their head and darker blackish wings and tail. The females are much browner in colour and often have a white-yellow stripe across going across their cheek to the base of their bill and blueish feathers on their head.

[Image by: Craig McKenzie]

Kea

Kea image by Andrea walmsley

Did you know that parrots have four toes, two that point forward and two that point backwards? This makes for wonderful balance in high up canopy tree tops. Our native Kea parrot is very special as they are the only alpine parrot in the world and are, in fact, one of the most intelligent bird species. Due to their high intelligence, they have gained themselves a name for being very cheeky and mischievous. Some scientific researchers believe that Kea may even be as a smart as a 4-year-old child, which is very impressive!

Kea exist only in the South Island of New Zealand in colder areas and nest in beech and mountain forest around the Southern Alps and south west coast. Fully grown, they can be 46cm long and 700-110g in weight. Their wing span is pretty impressive, as during mid-flight it can reach up to 1 metre in length.

[Image by: Andrew Walmsley]

Kiwi

Kiwi rotoroa islandThis beautiful and unusual species is a national icon. Their characteristics are quite exceptional and despite being birds, they are flightless and their feathers are different to most birds in that they are fine and hair like and give them a fluffy appearance. This is because they have adapted to suit a ground based lifestyle as they move through dense bush to forage for food – standard feathers would get stuck to leaves and branches.
They are also nocturnal, meaning that they are active during the night and making them very hard to see. Kiwi are very shy creatures and you are more likely to hear their call echo through the air during dawn or dusk then catch sight of them. Interestingly, a Kiwi has a profound sense of smell and are the only birds to have their nostrils at the bottom of their bill, to help them smell out food under the surface of the ground.

[Image by: Rotoroa Island]

Morepork / Ruru

Morepork image by julie mudgeYou may have heard their distinctive haunting call ripple through the forest air at night – the Morepork is New Zealand’s only surviving native owl. Its Maori name – Ruru – is such because of its melancholic and monotonous call where they repeat ‘quork quork’. This can only be heard during the night while they are active.

As with most owls, Morepork are nocturnal and hunt for their prey at night. They are actually pretty silent hunters and will swoop from the skies targeting their prey which may include insects and small birds and animals such as mice.

They are small owls with distinctive bright yellow dazzling eyes and brown ruffled feathers. These fascinating small creatures have very acute hearing and can detect even the slightest movement with their incredible eyesight, helped by their head that can through 270 degrees!

[Image by: Julie Mudge]

Takahē

takahe image by ian armitageThis unusual prehistoric-looking bird is a relic from the days when flightless, vegetarian birds roamed most of New Zealand; now they are one of the only birds of this kind left. Once thought to be instinct because of introduced predators, the flightless Takahe were then rediscovered in remote and mountainous parts of Fiordland in the South Island and later introduced to some wildlife reserves in the North Island and some offshore islands

They are often mistaken for the much more common Pukeko, who share a common ancestor making them distantly related. However, the Takahe are much larger and more colourful, with wider orange beaks and stout legs. Pukeko can also fly whereas Takahe cannot.Takahe primarily inhabit grasslands and use shrubs for shelter, although they also have adapted well to harsher alpine conditions, preferring alpine grasslands and river flats. They graze on grasses and seeds to get the nourishment that they need, also opportunistically feeding on large insects. These birds are threatened by predation by introduced animals such as stoats, and also must compete for food from introduced red deer.

[Image by: Ian Armitage]

Tui

Tui image by craig mckenzieIt is likely that you will hear the beautiful melodies of this native bird before you see them. However, they are just as iconic for their looks as they are for their voice with white fluffy plumes adorning their throats, contrasting against their darker feathered bodies that, in the light can have an iridescent blue, green and bronze sheen. Tui are, just like Bellbirds, a part of the honeyeater family and feed mainly on nectar from flowers and plants. This incredible species are very intelligent and they can mimic other sounds they hear in their forest habitat, such as the call of the bellbird.They have two voice boxes, which enable them to produce a range of songs and notes, with some being so high pitched that they are inaudible to the human ear. They are sociable bird and you will often see them in pairs or groups, but they are very territorial and can aggressive towards other birds when defending their feeding territory! They are very important for New Zealand forests as they are the most common pollinator of flowering plants as well as dispersing the seeds of trees.

[Image by: Craig McKenzie]