Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Birds of New Zealand

Did you know that New Zealand has the most number of flightless birds! Why?  Before humans reached New Zealand, the country used to be a bird sanctuary, as there were no predatory land mammals. Bats were actually the only mammals at that time. It is now home to a number of forest birds that live nowhere else in the world.
The majority of the world’s flightless birds evolved on mammal-free islands, and their extinction was mainly caused by people and introduced predatory mammals. When rats, stoats and human hunters reached New Zealand, some of the most interesting and unusual birds could not survive.

One of those now extinct birds was the MOA
  Some moa were enormous. The giant moa was one of the biggest birds ever known, and the largest land animal in New Zealand. It was about 12 feet tall and weighed about 300 kilograms, (as big as Big Bird from Sesame Street!) Because they couldn’t fly they were easy to catch. Unfortunately, they were hunted into extinction by the Maoris.

 North Island brown kiwi. Photo copyright: Tui De Roy, DOC USE ONLY.  New Zealand’s national bird is a flightless bird called Kiwi which is now endangered. New Zealanders are sometimes fondly referred to as kiwis.  New Zealand’s native birds are all flightless.  It is easily recognized by its long beak with nostrils at the tip, tiny wings and shaggy brown feathers.  They lay giant eggs and the parents take turns sitting on the egg for 70 days until the kiwi chick hatches.

KAKAPO (pronounced Kack-a-poe)
Kākāpō eating berries, Whenua Hou/Codfish Island. Photo copyright: Tui De Roy (DOC use only).   kakapo
One of the oddest birds is the giant, flightless parrot, the Kakapo. It’s nocturnal, has a face like an owl, and is one of New Zealand’s unique ‘treasures’. It is listed internationally as a critically endangered species. At the beginning of the 19th century, kakapo were still widespread throughout New Zealand. They are now managed by the Department of Conservation on three offshore islands, throughout the country.
The Kakapo is the heaviest parrot in the world. Males can weigh over two kilograms. Although it cannot fly, it is good at climbing trees and believed to have become nocturnal and learned to freeze and remain still during times of danger as a defence against its only ancient predator - the giant eagle, (now extinct).  Early Polynesian settlers hunted the bird for its plumage and meat.

Fantail having a bath in a puddle created by a tree root.  Photo: D Mudge.   Known for its friendly ‘cheet cheet’ call and energetic flying antics, the aptly 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. It has a small head and bill. Every hiker is familiar with this friendly bird and its feeding habits. Fantails frequently follow people or another bird or animal to capture insects disturbed by their movements.


New Zealand pigeon/kererū. Photo: Greg Moorcroft.      Since the extinction of the moa, the native pigeon is now the only seed disperser. It's bill is big enough to swallow large fruit, along with leaves, buds and flowers, which vary by season and region.  The disappearance of the New Zealand Pigeon would be a disaster for the regeneration of our native forests. 

TUI (pronounced Too-We)
Tui are unique to New Zealand and belong to the honeyeater family, which means they feed mainly on nectar from flowers of native plants. These attractive birds can often be heard singing their beautiful melodies long before they are spotted. You will recognize them by their distinctive white tuft under their throat, which contracts dramatically with the metallic blue-green sheen to their underlying black color.

  North Island weka. Photo: Peter Morrison.
The weka is a large, brown flightless bird that has a famously feisty and curious personality. These two qualities traditionally made the bird an easy food source for Māori and early European settlers.  Usually those living near farms or tramping huts, get a reputation for pilfering crops, food and other small objects.  But don't chase them...simply watch where they go and retrieve the objects a little later.

To learn more and hear some of the bird calls, go to:

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a great time to me! How much further is it? Wish I was there walking!