16 birds you may meet on New Zealand’s South Island

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New Zealand is dwelling to a few of the rarest birds on the planet. And this isn’t accidentally. It would shock you to be taught that New Zealand’s biodiversity is uncommon and really completely different from the remainder of the world. And the South Island birds are a few of the most unusual.

As an island, birdlife dominated the land and skies and advanced with out the specter of mammals strolling the shores, that’s, till people arrived round 1300 AD. The one native mammals in New Zealand had been two forms of bats.

The primary people launched rats and canine into the wild right here, after which in a while, settlers introduced in pigs, goats, deer, extra rat species, cats, rabbits, mustelids (ferrets, stoats, and weasels), and possums. Since then, dozens of fowl species have change into extinct, and others are endangered and hanging on for pricey life. In truth, a conservative estimate is that launched mammals kill greater than 25 million native birds yearly. Mixed with different components like land clearance, habitat loss, meals competitors, and drainage, most birds face a difficult future. 

However the kiwis are preventing again—each the folks and the birds.

south island birds

south island birds

As a substitute of giving up and letting many extra species go extinct, the Department of Conservation (DOC) in New Zealand, together with many different teams, personal, public, trusts, and nonprofits, like Predator Free NZ, are working around the clock to struggle the extinction on our shore. With large efforts of predator management across the nation, it offers the birds a significantly better probability at survival. With out it, we are able to just about kiss most of them goodbye inside our lifetimes. 

Defending these uncommon South Island birds is essential to me. In the event you’ve adopted me for a very long time, you in all probability have observed how I’ve shifted my content material an increasing number of towards conservation and sustainability. I attempt to align myself with manufacturers that take care of the planet and its creatures. 

For the previous decade, together with DOC, one among my largest supporters has been RealNZ (previously Actual Journeys). Based by native legends Les and Olive Hutchins again within the 50s, they helped struggle the nice struggle to save lots of Lake Manapouri and shield Fiordland. These conservation values have lengthy been the core of the corporate ever since. We expect alike and see how distinctive our taonga (treasured) species are first-hand on the South Island in Fiordland and Rakiura (Stewart Island). 

I’ve traveled throughout New Zealand for the previous decade and located a few of the greatest locations for assembly a few of our uncommon and endangered South Island birds round Fiordland and Rakiura.

Prepare to fulfill a few of my favourite South Island birds. Get pleasure from!

south island birds

south island birds

1. The cheeky Kea

The highest contender for each essentially the most beloved and most despised fowl in New Zealand needs to be the kea. The world’s solely alpine parrot is taken into account some of the clever birds on the planet, which suggests they usually stand up to no good. Farmers claimed they killed their sheep, so there was a government-sponsored bounty on their beaks for a century – killing over 150,000 kea.

Nearly extinct, lower than 7,000 kea are left in New Zealand, and they’re nationally endangered and declining. Stunning and cheeky, they’re a fan favourite of vacationers, that’s, till they rip your automotive window rubber to items or destroy your tent and throw your mountaineering boots off a cliff. With massive personalities and essentially the most lovely feathers, kea are particular. We’re fortunate to have them.

As a result of the populations of kea are so small now, it’s not at all times straightforward to search out them. One place you’ll be able to see them is alongside the Milford Road in Fiordland. They love hanging out by the Homer Tunnel and at a few of the pullover spots. In the event you take a day journey to Milford Sound with the bus switch from Queenstown or Te Anau with RealNZ, they cease at these locations, and you may see them up shut and private. 

However bear in mind, NEVER FEED THE KEA. As we are saying right here, a fed kea is a lifeless kea. Feeding kea is unhealthy for a lot of causes – you’ll be able to learn extra here.

south island birds

2. The alpine rock wren/pīwauwau

Whereas most individuals affiliate the kea as New Zealand’s iconic alpine fowl, the reality is they’re solely partly alpine as they nest within the forest. Rock wren/pīwauwau are literally New Zealand’s solely true alpine fowl. Ka-boom, take that, kea!

Weighing lower than an AA battery, they’re tiny however mighty. I’ve been recognized to waste a ton of time whereas tramping, ready round, and searching for rock wren after I’m within the mountains. Simply final summer season, I made an epic mistake by spending two hours watching the rock wren on the Gillespie Cross, which means I needed to end the tramp at midnight in a forest the place the path was principally invisible. 10/10 don’t suggest. However hey, it’s fairly cool there are rock wren up there! I’ve additionally seen them a number of occasions whereas tramping in Fiordland.

Rock wren are in deep trouble. Stoats love them, and local weather change will affect them too. When severe predator management efforts exist, about 85% of nests are profitable. With out predator management, nests virtually at all times fail. 

south island birds

3. The quirky weka

If I had a greenback for all of the occasions that vacationers have instructed me they had been so fortunate and noticed 20 kiwi in Fiordland who got here proper as much as them, I might in all probability have round $20. Putting a stability between bursting their bubble and maintaining them glad, I discover myself kindly explaining that it was positively not kiwi; as an alternative, it was in all probability the weka

If anybody sees 2o curious kiwi through the daylight that come proper as much as you, please let me know as a result of that doesn’t occur, haha. Kiwi are uncommon, elusive, shy, solitary, and, most significantly, nocturnal. Weka? You see them far and wide, particularly in Fiordland. They’re so considerable they eat them on the Chatham Islands.

Weka have a tendency to not get loads of love. They arrive throughout as bizarre, scavenger-esque, and sometimes even a complete ache, particularly for conservation employees. They’re predatory with different native species (despite the fact that they’re additionally threatened and declining), so that they’re usually not welcome on predator-free islands. 

Weka poop their very own weight in a day, which earns them respect, for my part!

south island birds

4. The takahē: the fowl that got here again from the lifeless

Takahē have lengthy been one among my favourite fowl success tales in New Zealand. Declared extinct after not being noticed for 50 years, takahē had been rediscovered in 1948, hidden deep in Fiordland’s Murchison Mountains. 

Takahē are New Zealand’s largest flightless fowl, with mammals being the most important risk to their survival. In 2007, a stoat plague halved the takahē inhabitants within the Murchison Mountains, and these days, there are about 400 birds. One other fantastic but bizarre poo truth is that the takahē can poo as much as 9 meters a day.

Whereas it’s tougher to see them within the wild as a result of their populations are protected, you’ll be able to see takahē in many sanctuaries across the nation. These massive blue flightless birds give us all hope for different species. For instance, the South Island kōkako was listed as extinct till 2013 when DOC reclassified its standing as ‘information poor,’ with many individuals recording sightings and songs of the fowl because the hunt continues to search out them.  

south island birds

5. Probably the most expressive tawaki/Fiordland crested penguin

The Fiordland crested penguin/tawaki is the one penguin on the planet to reside deep within the rainforest right here in New Zealand. With their jaunty, bushy yellow eyebrow feathers, they’re very uncommon, with the present tawaki inhabitants sitting between 2,500 and three,000 breeding pairs.

For the previous 70 years, they’ve been in decline, so seeing these guys within the wild makes it all of the extra particular. 

Uncertain Sound is among the locations the place I’ve usually seen tawaki. On the Doubtful Sound overnight cruises with RealNZ, you’ve a greater probability of seeing them at daybreak or nightfall they go/return from the ocean. One of the best time of yr to see tawaki is through the breeding season, from July to November. 

south island birds

6. The white-water rafting blue duck – the whio

Do you know our endemic duck right here in New Zealand doesn’t quack? The whio/blue duck may be very uncommon, with solely 3,000 left; the males whistle whereas the females growl. Additionally, a superb reminder that the ‘wh’ in ‘whio’ is pronounced as an ‘f.’ Payment-oh. Say it with me, fee-oh.

The white water rafting duck, whio want clear, fast-flowing rivers to thrive. You’ll additionally spot them on the 10-dollar notice right here. Whio Forever helps take care of these South Island birds in a partnership between Genesis Vitality and DOC. RealNZ additionally contributes in the direction of Whio Restoration as a part of its conservation initiatives.

Whereas the kea are inclined to get all the eye on the Milford Street, I’ve noticed many whio there too, in addition to round Fiordland.  

south island birds

7. The lovable little $100 mohua/yellowhead

So lots of our flashier, larger South Island birds get all the eye right here in New Zealand, and it’s straightforward to overlook in regards to the little guys. The mohua/yellowhead is a small, insect-eating fowl that lives solely within the forests of New Zealand’s South Island. Mohua are uncommon and declining; in reality, there are lower than 5,000 mohua left. 

These days, you could find mohua gracing our $100 notice right here in New Zealand.

Early settlers known as it the ‘bush canary’ due to its coloration and exquisite music. You’ll find mohua in pockets across the South Island, together with Fiordland. They’re a fowl you kinda must be on the hunt to search out. I’ve seen them essentially the most in Fiordland, round Dusky Sound, the place there may be loads of predator management. In partnership with DOC, RealNZ runs some severe predator management efforts round Dusky Sound, together with the formidable Cooper Island Restoration Project.

south island birds

8. The opposite noisy and loveable parrot – the kākā

The forest-dwelling cousin of the kea is the kākā, lovely brown, crimson, and yellow coloured parrots which might be making an actual comeback throughout most of New Zealand; even in case you don’t see them, you’ll be able to hear them chattering and shrieking away within the treetops.

Like lots of our different South Island birds, they’re nonetheless in danger from predators, but additionally habitat loss – kākā want loads of forest to thrive. 

south island birds

9. The long-lasting kiwi/tokoeka, our nationwide treasure

The kiwi positively is among the world’s weirdest birds. Distinctive, curious, and nocturnal, kiwi can’t fly, they usually have free, hair-like feathers. There are 5 species of kiwi throughout New Zealand, with lower than 70,000 left. Down south right here, we’ve got the tokoeka kiwi, which accurately means ‘weka with a strolling stick.’ And there are three genetically distinct types of the tokoeka kiwi: Haast, Fiordland, and Rakiura (Stewart Island).

Your greatest probability of seeing kiwi within the wild is on Rakiura. Realnz’s Chief Conservation Officer, Paul Norris, can also be chair of Predator-Free Rakiura, whose aim is to rid Rakiura of launched predators to assist greater than 20 threatened species. RealNZ works laborious to assist this marketing campaign.

Nationwide, roughly 20% of the kiwi inhabitants is underneath administration. In areas with predator management, 50-60% of chicks survive. With out predator management, 95% of kiwi die earlier than reaching breeding age.

south island birds

10. The beloved, drunken kererū

New Zealand’s pigeon, the kererū, is a big, superbly inexperienced, bronze, and white fowl you’ll be able to usually see across the nation. With a tiny head, you’ll be able to at all times hear the woosh-woosh sound it makes because it takes flight within the forest.

However maybe what kererū are most recognized for is that they sometimes get drunk on fermented berries and fall out of timber. And never only one, both. 

Inhabitants-wise, they’re doing okay, although the kererū is declining in areas with no predator management.

south island birds

11. The musical bellbird/korimako, with its haunting songs

Once I lived in Dublin Bay in Wānaka, a bellbird/korimako lived within the massive tree outdoors my balcony. At sundown, he would start singing. I’ve such lovely recollections of it, and every time I hear the decision of the bellbird within the forest, I keep in mind that chapter of my life. 

The music of the bellbird might be essentially the most simply recognizable name right here in New Zealand.

south island birds

12. The boisterous little fantail/pīwakawaka

Recognized for its iconic ‘cheet cheet’ music and energetic flying antics bopping round all around the forest, the fantail/pīwakawaka is among the most typical native birds right here in New Zealand. As a result of they’ve many chicks, fantails have fared comparatively nicely with the incursion of mammal predators. You may even see a stable black fantail in case you’re fortunate. 

In Māori tales, the fantail was chargeable for bringing information of demise. It’s horrible luck to see a fantail in a home.

Maui (the trickster demi-god), considering he might eradicate demise by efficiently passing by means of the goddess of demise, Hine-nui-te-po, tried to enter the goddess’s sleeping physique by means of the pathway of delivery. The fantail, warned by Maui to be quiet, started laughing and woke Hine-nuite-po, who killed him.

south island birds

13. The group favourite – the tūī

It looks as if the whole lot in New Zealand is known as after the tūī. Beers, manufacturers, and even canine are sometimes known as tūī, one among our most prolific and noisy songbirds. In the event you hear a music within the forest, it’s usually the tūī. The tūī is great at mimicking sounds and calls from different birds. 

With lovely coloring and a white feather on the chest, they’re straightforward to identify. Typically they’re a bit territorial. 

south island birds

14. The pleasant little South Island robin/toutouwai

The New Zealand robin/toutouwai is at all times one among my favourite South Island birds as a result of they’re so curious. Now that I’m into birdwatching, I usually decelerate whereas tramping and take the time to hear for calls and to soak within the place I’m exploring. Inevitably, a robin often reveals as much as preserve me firm.

In the event you sit nonetheless and watch them lengthy sufficient, they are going to usually come proper as much as you. I’ve had them land on my cameras or perch on my boots. They like that our boots churn up the bottom revealing bugs for them to munch on.

Whereas they’re declining, I usually see them mountaineering within the nationwide parks. There are three sorts: North Island robins, South Island robins, and Stewart Island robins, all of that are carefully associated. With their chubby spherical our bodies perched on lengthy spindly legs, they’re tremendous cute to look at within the wild.

south island birds

15. Our guardians and fortune tellers – the tīeke/saddleback

Sadly there are solely about 700 South Island saddlebacks are left right here in New Zealand; you’ll be able to generally see them in Fiordland and on Rakiura. All these birds are descended from the survivors of the 36 saddlebacks rescued in 1964 when a ship by chance introduced rats to their remaining island refuge.

Saved from the brink of extinction, tīeke are one of many nice conservation success tales, and it’s lovely to see them within the wild.

south island birds

16. And my all-time favourite – the kākāpō

You guys know that I’ve been OBSESSED with the kākāpō since I moved to New Zealand. My absolute favourite, the kākāpō, takes the highest prize for the good, weirdest, most fascinating native fowl. Nocturnal and flightless, kākāpō are the one lek-breeding parrot species on the planet, they usually solely breed when rimu timber put out sufficient fruit, often each two to 4 years. They’re additionally one of many longest-lived fowl species on the planet, clocking in at round 90 years outdated and being the heaviest parrot. 

The history of the kākāpō is a tragic one. As soon as, they had been the third most typical fowl in New Zealand. However when people and predators arrived, they didn’t stand an opportunity. They had been decimated, and it wasn’t till the 70s that conservation started actively searching for them once more to save lots of their species. A number of had been present in Fiordland, all males, after which a tiny inhabitants was discovered on Rakiura with females. Whereas they don’t have a lot genetic range, the kākāpō are slowly making a comeback.

With solely 248 kākāpō left in New Zealand, all of them have names and are taken care of by DOC and Kākāpō Recovery, who work around the clock to carry these guys again from the brink of extinction. Sadly you in all probability gained’t see any kākāpō in New Zealand, they usually reside solely on offshore, predator-free islands, with restricted entry.

I’ve been fortunate sufficient to go to them each on Whenua Hou and Anchor Island, the place RealNZ generally helps with trapping. I’ve even been privileged sufficient to fulfill and maintain Sirocco a number of occasions – our well-known Spokesbird for Conservation. You might need seen him in that viral video with Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine. 

However in case you get fortunate and are right here when there’s a breeding season with many chicks, usually Kākāpō Recovery will usually have a few of the hand-reared chicks on the mainland in particular locations the place you may get the prospect to see them. And we are able to all dream about seeing them within the wild once more someday!

What South Island birds did I miss? What number of have you ever seen? I wish to hear all of your tales – share!

south island birds

Many due to RealNZ for all of their laborious work in conservation and for being so inspiring, and for supporting me to assist inform these highly effective tales – like at all times, I’m maintaining it actual – like you may anticipate much less from me.