insights from the ultimate cruising team

Birds of a Feather

Birds of a Feather

As if New Zealand's beautiful native forest wasn’t spectacular enough, the birdlife is sure to enthral.  From the cheeky kea to the elusive kiwi and the cute and cuddly kakapo … it’s always a bit of a thrill to spot one of these feathery friends.  New Zealand has around 200 native birds – some found in the north, some in the south, some in both islands and some in the remote Sub-Antarctic Islands.  Some are plentiful and “common” such as the piwakawaka (fantail) whereas others are on the verge of extinction. 

Take a look at just a few of the species you might meet next time you’re taking a walk through the New Zealand bush:


Probably the best known native bird is the kea.  You’ll find these guys in the South Island, in and around the alpine areas.  You’re likely to spot them in the Milford Sound area hanging around the carparks seeing if they can score a treat from tourists.  They’re cheeky little birds who don’t mind stealing your lunch or checking out your car (they have been known to pull windscreen wipers blades and the rubber window seals off and to steal keys!)  They’re also very intelligent with some scientists put their intelligence level on a par with 4 year old children.  Although they appear as olive green in colour, closer inspection of the feathers reveal green with black tips, royal blue and even bright orange on the underside of their wings.


This cute wee fellow, with a name that translates roughly to “owl-face soft-feather” nearly became extinct; however a recovery plan has seen numbers increase although they are still considered critically endangered.  Although a parrot, the kakapo cannot fly – which is partly why their feathers are so soft.  They don’t need to be stiff or strong to support flight.  They’re known to be very friendly and have been known to approach people and climb up onto them.  In early days, settlers and Maori often kept the kakapo as pets.  They are perhaps the longest-lived bird species in the world – living up to 90 years!


Easily identified by the deep blue-black feathers and white tuft on its chest, the tui is a common sight in New Zealand.  They are vocal, inquisitive and feature prominently in Maori folklore and songs.  If you see a tui that seems to be a bit tipsy, you’re not mistaken.  Tuis are the main pollinators of flax, kowhai, kaka beak and some other plants but a favourite for the tui is the flax.  The nectar of the flax sometimes ferments, resulting in the tui flying in a way that suggests they’ve had a little too much to drink!


Often seen in wetlands, farms, around rivers and generally just anywhere rural, the pukeko is one of New Zealand’s iconic birds with its long spindly legs, beautiful colouring and a short, strong beak .  Although they can fly short distances, they are usually seen strutting their stuff foraging for bugs, seeds, plants, eggs and even small rodents or ducklings.  The flick of the white underside of their tail is a distinctive pukeko trademark.   They’re a protected bird in New Zealand but also considered a bit of a pest where growers are concerned.  They will decimate crops, pull fruit from trees and generally make a big old pest of themselves!


Often at night in New Zealand you’ll hear the distinctive call of “more-pork” – which is where New Zealand’s only surviving owl got its name.  They are commonly found in forests throughout New Zealand.  The morepork (or ruru) is a small owl with speckled brown plumage and yellow eyes and can rotate its head 270 degrees.  They’re nocturnal birds, hunting at night for large invertebrates including beetles, weta, moths and spiders.  They also enjoy the odd rat, mouse or small bird.


Last but not least, there’s the kiwi of course.  The most well-known native bird from whence New Zealander’s received their nickname, the kiwi is famous worldwide.  A flightless, nocturnal bird with long beak and short wings, the kiwi is found in the native bush areas throughout New Zealand – although they’re pretty elusive so you’re pretty lucky to see one in the wild.  You may well hear them though with their distinctive call.  Its feathers are more like hair and it has nostrils at the end of its beak.  It also lays an egg that is huge in comparison to its body size!  The kiwi egg takes up around 20% of the mother’s body.  It seems only fair then that the male steps up and helps incubate the egg – which can be around 70-80 days!  Kiwi numbers have decreased significantly over the last 100 years, however protected areas and education about controlling dogs and other predators is having good success at helping their survival.


For more information on New Zealand’s native birds, visit