New Zealand is house to a number of the rarest birds on the earth. And this isn’t accidentally. It’d shock you to study that New Zealand’s biodiversity is uncommon and really completely different from the remainder of the world. And the South Island birds are a number of the most original.
As an island, birdlife dominated the land and skies and developed with out the specter of mammals strolling the shores, that’s, till people arrived round 1300 AD. The one native mammals in New Zealand have been two varieties 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 grow to be extinct, and others are endangered and hanging on for pricey life. In actual fact, 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 combating again—each the folks and the birds.
As an alternative of giving up and letting many extra species go extinct, the Department of Conservation (DOC) in New Zealand, together with many different teams, non-public, public, trusts, and nonprofits, like Predator Free NZ, are working around the clock to struggle the extinction on our shore. With enormous efforts of predator management across the nation, it provides the birds a a lot better probability at survival. With out it, we will 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 seen how I’ve shifted my content material increasingly 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 greatest 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 avoid wasting Lake Manapouri and shield Fiordland. These conservation values have lengthy been the core of the corporate ever since. We predict 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 number of the finest 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!
1. The cheeky Kea
The highest contender for each essentially the most cherished and most despised fowl in New Zealand must be the kea. The world’s solely alpine parrot is taken into account one of the vital clever birds on the earth, which suggests they usually rise 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. Lovely and cheeky, they’re a fan favourite of vacationers, that’s, till they rip your automobile window rubber to items or destroy your tent and throw your mountain climbing boots off a cliff. With massive personalities and essentially the most stunning 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 all the time simple to seek out them. One place you may see them is alongside the Milford Road in Fiordland. They love hanging out by the Homer Tunnel and at a number 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 keep in mind, NEVER FEED THE KEA. As we are saying right here, a fed kea is a lifeless kea. Feeding kea is dangerous for a lot of causes – you may learn extra here.
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 identified to waste a ton of time whereas tramping, ready round, and in search of rock wren once I’m within the mountains. Simply final summer time, I made an epic mistake by spending two hours watching the rock wren on the Gillespie Go, which means I needed to end the tramp in the dead of night in a forest the place the path was principally invisible. 10/10 don’t advocate. However hey, it’s fairly cool there are rock wren up there! I’ve additionally seen them just a few 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 nearly all the time fail.
3. The quirky weka
If I had a greenback for all of the occasions that vacationers have instructed me they have 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 steadiness between bursting their bubble and preserving them blissful, I discover myself kindly explaining that it was positively not kiwi; as a substitute, 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 everywhere, particularly in Fiordland. They’re so plentiful they eat them on the Chatham Islands.
Weka have a tendency to not get quite a lot 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 (though 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!
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 have been rediscovered in 1948, hidden deep in Fiordland’s Murchison Mountains.
Takahē are New Zealand’s largest flightless fowl, with mammals being the largest menace 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 great 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 may 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 ‘knowledge poor,’ with many individuals recording sightings and songs of the fowl because the hunt continues to seek out them.
5. Probably the most expressive tawaki/Fiordland crested penguin
The Fiordland crested penguin/tawaki is the one penguin on the earth 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 without doubt one of the locations the place I’ve often seen tawaki. On the Doubtful Sound overnight cruises with RealNZ, you’ve gotten a greater probability of seeing them at daybreak or nightfall they go/return from the ocean. One of the best time of 12 months to see tawaki is through the breeding season, from July to November.
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 very good reminder that the ‘wh’ in ‘whio’ is pronounced as an ‘f.’ Price-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 be aware right here. Whio Forever helps take care of these South Island birds in a partnership between Genesis Power and DOC. RealNZ additionally contributes in the direction of Whio Restoration as a part of its conservation initiatives.
Whereas the kea are likely to get all the eye on the Milford Street, I’ve noticed many whio there too, in addition to round Fiordland.
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 simple to overlook concerning 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, yow will discover mohua gracing our $100 be aware right here in New Zealand.
Early settlers known as it the ‘bush canary’ due to its coloration and exquisite music. You could find mohua in pockets across the South Island, together with Fiordland. They’re a fowl you kinda should be on the hunt to seek out. I’ve seen them essentially the most in Fiordland, round Dusky Sound, the place there’s quite a lot of predator management. In partnership with DOC, RealNZ runs some severe predator management efforts round Dusky Sound, together with the bold Cooper Island Restoration Project.
8. The opposite noisy and loveable parrot – the kākā
The forest-dwelling cousin of the kea is the kākā, stunning brown, pink, and yellow coloured parrots which might be making an actual comeback throughout most of New Zealand; even should you don’t see them, you may 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 quite a lot of forest to thrive.
9. The enduring kiwi/tokoeka, our nationwide treasure
The kiwi positively is without doubt one of 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 finest probability of seeing kiwi within the wild is on Rakiura. Realnz’s Chief Conservation Officer, Paul Norris, can be chair of Predator-Free Rakiura, whose purpose is to rid Rakiura of launched predators to assist greater than 20 threatened species. RealNZ works laborious to help this marketing campaign.
Nationwide, roughly 20% of the kiwi inhabitants is below administration. In areas with predator management, 50-60% of chicks survive. With out predator management, 95% of kiwi die earlier than reaching breeding age.
10. The beloved, drunken kererū
New Zealand’s pigeon, the kererū, is a big, superbly inexperienced, bronze, and white fowl you may usually see across the nation. With a tiny head, you may all the time hear the woosh-woosh sound it makes because it takes flight within the forest.
However maybe what kererū are most identified for is that they often get drunk on fermented berries and fall out of bushes. And never only one, both.
Inhabitants-wise, they’re doing okay, although the kererū is declining in areas with no predator management.
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 exterior my balcony. At sundown, he would start singing. I’ve such stunning recollections of it, and at any time when I hear the decision of the bellbird within the forest, I do not forget that chapter of my life.
The music of the bellbird might be essentially the most simply recognizable name right here in New Zealand.
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 without doubt one of the commonest native birds right here in New Zealand. As a result of they’ve many chicks, fantails have fared comparatively effectively with the incursion of mammal predators. You may even see a strong black fantail should you’re fortunate.
In Māori tales, the fantail was accountable for bringing information of loss of life. It’s horrible luck to see a fantail in a home.
Maui (the trickster demi-god), pondering he might eradicate loss of life by efficiently passing by the goddess of loss of life, Hine-nui-te-po, tried to enter the goddess’s sleeping physique by the pathway of beginning. The fantail, warned by Maui to be quiet, started laughing and woke Hine-nuite-po, who killed him.
13. The group favourite – the tūī
It looks as if every thing 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 superb at mimicking sounds and calls from different birds.
With stunning coloring and a white feather on the chest, they’re simple to identify. Generally they’re a bit territorial.
14. The pleasant little South Island robin/toutouwai
The New Zealand robin/toutouwai is all the time 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 normally reveals as much as preserve me firm.
In the event you sit nonetheless and watch them lengthy sufficient, they may 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 mountain climbing 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.
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 may typically 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 accident 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 stunning to see them within the wild.
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 earth, they usually solely breed when rimu bushes put out sufficient fruit, normally each two to 4 years. They’re additionally one of many longest-lived fowl species on the earth, 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 have been the third commonest fowl in New Zealand. However when people and predators arrived, they didn’t stand an opportunity. They have been decimated, and it wasn’t till the 70s that conservation started actively in search of them once more to avoid wasting their species. A number of have 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 deliver 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 typically helps with trapping. I’ve even been privileged sufficient to fulfill and maintain Sirocco just a few occasions – our well-known Spokesbird for Conservation. You may need seen him in that viral video with Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine.
However should you get fortunate and are right here when there’s a breeding season with many chicks, usually Kākāpō Recovery will usually have a number of the hand-reared chicks on the mainland in particular locations the place you may get the prospect to see them. And we will all dream about seeing them within the wild once more at some point!
What South Island birds did I miss? What number of have you ever seen? I need to hear all of your tales – share!
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 all the time, I’m preserving it actual – like you would count on much less from me.
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