Birds of New Zealand

Hooper, 2012



  •           Northern Royal Albatross
  •           Fiordland Crested Penguin
  •           Black Shag
  •           Little Shag
  •           Southern Black-Backed Gull
  •           Red-Billed Gull
  •           Black-Billed Gull
  •           Variable Oystercatcher
  •           South Island Pied Oystercatcher
  •           Black Necked Stilt
  •           Spur-Winged Plover
  •           Australian Crested Grebe
  •           White-Necked Heron
  •           White-Faced Heron
  •           Royal Spoonbill
  •           Pukeko
  •           Paradise Shelduck
  •           Northern Mallard
  •           New Zealand Scaup
  •           Swamp Harrier
  •           Kereru
  •           Rock Pigeon
  •           Kea
  •           California Quail
  •           Welcome Swallow
  •           Tui
  •           Bellbird
  •           Blackbird
  •           Song Thrush
  •           House Sparrow
  •           Chaffinch
  •           Redpoll
  •           Green Finch
  •           Starling
  •           Common Myna
  •           Indian Myna
  •           Australian Magpie


  •           Morepark
  •           Brown Teal
  •           New Zealand Falcon
  •          Yellow-Crowned Parakeet
  •           Red-Crowned Parakeet
  •           Antipodes Island Parakeet
  •           North Island Brown Kiwi
  •           Western Weka
  •           Australian White Ibis
  •           Australian Pelican


*As identified in New Zealand using Collins Traveller’s Guide, Birds of New Zealand (Julian Fitter, Don Merton editors), Published by HarperCollins, Inc. 2011.



PICTURES & COMMENTARY (Roughly Chronological)

I have written about the Birds of New Zealand, which I spotted through my trusty binoculars while in Auckland on the north island and Dunedin (and other cities) on the south island,  in November, 2012.  My wife and I were visiting our daughter, Kathleen, who was studying abroad for half the year at the University of Otago in Dunedin.  Our trip to Auckland offered us a visit with the Coates Family.  My longtime friend, Barry Coates and his wife, Rosalind, and two daughters proved wonderful hosts. We spent most of the time on the south island, helping Kathleen pack, and visiting the gorgeous sites. 

Right after the trip the three of us headed to Australia to meet up with our two other daughters, Margaret and Eleanor, stay with Mary & Greg Bayles for a glorious week, before heading to the Great Barrier Reef for scuba and snorkeling.  The entire trip, which we had originally planned about 7 years ago, made for the family vacation of a lifetime.

I did not get photos of all of the birds, nor did I write about all of them.  Instead I picked some which I found to be particularly interesting to me.  The list is, therefore, idiosyncratic and different.  If there were lots of these species in the US, for example, I didn’t write about them.  If I were unsure about a positive identification, I left them off the list. I hope you enjoy the commentary as much as I did writing it.



This bird looks like a Gallinule from the States, but are less secretive, and does not have the distinctive yellow tip on his bill.  They seem pretty tame and Barry Coates pointed out several, which were present in city parks around Auckland.  It looks very similar to the Purple Swamphen (Australia), except with a Moari name.


  magpie 1

Australian Magpie

These birds do not have the long tails of their American namesake.  They are, however, ubiquitous in parks and on the streets and they are lovely to watch in flight.  The black and white wing and body feathers stand out, even in threatening and overcast weather conditions.  The black-tipped white beak is curious, as it is large and distinctive.  They hop on insects with zeal and never miss a meal.  The magpie seems to be the crows and blue jays of New Zealand (and Australia for that matter).


Tui 2 Tui 1


The Coates have a nesting pair of Tui in the bottle brush tree in their front yard.  I watched for a good photo opportunity but did not really get one.  We did see the bird again in Queenstown and I got a good close-up view of the remarkable white tuft of throat feathers. It doesn’t look real.  It is a white bulbous plume of feathers tied like a bib around his neck.  Their other feathers are like those of a starling: dark feathers that shimmer with green and dark blue and purple.  The colors change with the bird’s positioning and light.



Welcome Swallow

These birds really did welcome us to New Zealand.  On our first walk with the Coates in Cornwall Park, the swallows were sitting on the fences and wires and they flew before us, scooping up bugs as they glided.  They also dodged in and out of the cows and sheep, which obviously stir up a lot of bugs on their own.  Cool sights!  They look a bit like barn swallows, with their forked tail and translucent wing pattern.



Australian Crested Grebe

Wonderful to see this bird swimming, floating and diving around Queenstown harbor. He put on a show for us, while we were walking on the promenade around the city marina.


kiwi 2

North Island Brown Kiwi

We saw the North Island Kiwi at a great nature preserve below the gondola chair lift in Queenstown NZ.  It was great learning about these amazing, near wingless birds.  We saw a male and female scrounge for food and we actually witnessed them mating, though Tracy was not sure what they were doing.  We heard of the heroic efforts to save these nocturnal birds from extinction.  Their predators are opossum and dogs.  One pet dog, who was off-leash for a week, killed 500 Kiwi.  Although a bit smaller than the typical chicken, they lay an egg six times larger than a chicken egg and share in the incubation.  To put it in perspective an ostrich lays an egg which is about 2% of the female’s body weight.  The average human child is born about 5% of the mother’s body weight.  The Kiwi egg is 15 – 20% of the female’s body weight!



Western Weka

A beautiful ground bird, about the size of a grouse.  This bird was surprisingly tame, pecking away at the ground in search of bugs, and hunting just a few yards away from a school ground, where kids were running around at recess.


  kereru 2 kereru 1


This is by far the biggest pigeon I have ever seen.  It is the size of a grouse, but fatter!  I doubt it could be used as a carrier pigeon.  I spotted this one (left) in Queenstown, while it was munching away at the flowers and fruit on the city park trees.  It also made a soft coo call. I got another look at this bird up close and personal at the Kiwi Park, which highlighted the bird’s red-orange eyes, which I did not see clearly “in the wild” of the city park.  This is a special bird of the Maori, and it is only found in New Zealand.  The native people gave it the name of Kereru, which is sometimes translated as Wood Pigeon, but it is from a different species.  The NZ species, once very numerous, is protected, probably because it would be easy to track and hunt to extinction.

(N.B. the list of extinct birds over the generations is very long. See the attached link for a partial list. You will note that most of these rare birds were hunted to extinction by man: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_extinct_animals_of_New_Zealand)


  oystercatcher 2 oystercatcher 1

Variable Oystercatcher

Having seen lots of Oystercatchers over the years in and around the ocean (especially on Glacier Bay in Alaska), I was very surprised to see all of the Oystercatchers, both Variable and Pied, in the fields and fertile ground areas.  I did not see them on lakes or along the shoreline.  They were most prevalent in fields that had recently been tilled and the new ground overturned.  They must have found lots of bugs, because there are no shells to crack in the soil.  We could hear their distinctive calls as we drove by, which was also a clue.  We saw them around the sheep and cows also, which surprised me, as I thought their ground egg laying would keep their nests far away.


  oystercatcher 4 oystercatcher 3

South Island Pied Oystercatcher



Red-crowned Parakeet


parakeet 2

Antipodes Island Parakeet

The parrots and parakeets are all over the island, but we did not see them in New Zealand.  When we got to Australia, it was another story all together.  The word Antipodian refers to animals and people who are from Australia and New Zealand, so having a bird with Antipodes in its name was fun to see on the wing.



Brown Teal



California Quail

I heard the quail long before I saw him, as he was hooting pretty loudly in the shrubs of the Queenstown park.  I thought I was back in California, or in the Southwest, as this guy looks like a Gamble’s Quail to me.


 gull w rabbit gull 2

Red-Billed Gull with rabbit

We saw these two animals when we went up to the rookery for the albatross in Dunedin.  The red-billed gulls were doing their aerial acrobatics in the fierce wind.  I am not sure if they would make it back to their nests, but somehow they always do.  Meanwhile the Albatosses were soaring overhead.


   albostross 2 albostross 1

Northern Royal Albatross

We arrived at the Albatross rookery just as it closed for the night (4:00pm sharp).  We went out to the windy point anyway and saw the albatross diving by.  It was huge compared with the other birds: several times the size of the gulls and shags which were nesting in the same area.  I did not get a good picture, but I enjoyed spotting them in my binoculars and watching them zoom down toward the water, then high up overhead.  It was fun and cold.  After a half-hour of shivering, we were ready to head off so that Kathleen and her friend, Andy, could find at least one sheep to pet, before she left New Zealand.  We would find the sheep the next day, in an unexpected Dunedin neighborhood. (Web photos.)


jamima 1 jemima 2

Jemima Puddleduck

Yes, Beatrix Potter has been to New Zealand.  We had some fun chasing these white ducks.  We spotted them with some ornery sheep nearby.  The duck is not on my bird list.


   shag 1 shag 2

Little Shag

We saw the shags, which is what New Zealanders call cormorants, in Auckland and again in Dunedin Harbour, but the ones most vivid for me were on the log in the middle of the channel of Milford Sound.  They looked like twin sentinels, as we went by in our kayaks.  I did not get a great shot, but I recognized them because of their yellow beaks and white fronts and necks.  Their backs ranged from grey to black.  We saw black shags in Dunedin Harbour, as well as little shags and I thought we saw an Anhinga, but I must have been mistaken.


  kea 1 kea 2


A large and friendly parrot, this Kea flew up to the observation post just north of Te Anau, as we drove to Queensland.  He posed for us on the railing.  He was probably used to hand outs, but we did not indulge.  His large upper mandible is quite a large hook and is probably the reason he can dismantle car window rubber linings, windshield wipers and tramper’s backpacks. Instead we took pictures and did not let him on our car hood.  He has bright orange feathers on the underside his wings, which makes him look magnificent in flight.  I understand that the bird’s name comes from the loud Keee-aaah call, but we did not hear it’s call at the rest stop.  Eleanor also said that her good friend at the Sierra Institute adopted the name, Kea, in honor of this bird.



Common Redpoll

Cute little finch.  I am used to seeing them in the States at high altitudes on glaciers and snowfields and I was very surprised to see this one in the park in Queenstown. (Web Photo.)


  penguin 2 penguin 1

Fiordland Crested Penguin


With the help of our talented waterman guide, Ricki Hurst, we kayaked the beautiful and mysterious Milford Sound in western New Zealand.  We were fortunate to see these birds on the rocks, just a short distance from the water in the Fiordlands National Park.  These little guys were nesting near the entrance to the Tasman Sea.  Next stop west is Australia!  There were about six penguins in the area where we were kayaking.  We stayed just offshore, but I only caught a few photos between Kathleen and me on film.  We did not see these remarkable birds, while proving to be acrobatic swimmers in the Tasman Sea.


 shelduck 1  shelduck 2

Paradise Shelduck (female – white head, male – black head)


This large goose-like duck is unusual because the plumage of the female is much more flamboyant than the male.  In most other animal species, especially birds, it is usually the other way around.  We also heard a remarkable story from Ricki, our Milford Sound kayak guide, about the Shelduck: it mates once for life, i.e. they do not re-attach to another bird, if they lose their mate.  Other birds do the same, but we saw these ducks all over New Zealand and they were always in pairs. Always.  Even if I did not see the second duck at first, when I waited the other one showed up eventually.  These birds were always near a pond or stream or river.  As a duck to water, the saying goes.  They are very colorful in flight, so it was easy to spot them on the wing.  When I was driving, I would point annoyingly to the female, which was the first of the pair I usually spotted, and the car veered to the left.  As if driving on the other side of the road is not scary enough, we found it safer for all of us, when Kathleen was at the wheel.


   chaffinch 2 chaffinch 1



Definitely the cutest bird we saw in the Queenstown park, the Chaffinches were flying in and around us, while we sat looking at the boats, the water men, the jet boats, and the shore birds.  It was fun to not know this bird, but to quickly distinguish it from the sparrows, pigeons, starlings, and larger gulls that were looking for nuts, bread, seeds and other hand-outs for the tourists.


    scaup 2 scaup 1

New Zealand Scaup


   black billed gull 2 black billed gull 1

Black-Billed Gull


indian mina

Indian Myna (invasive)


We saw these birds in Auckland, while at the local Farmers’ Market, they were loud and bounding around the parking lot.  I did not notice the difference between the native and Indian species until we got to Sydney and Greg Bayles told me about the battle he was waging against an Indian Myna, who was building a nest just outside his bedroom window.  Greg was determined to make sure this guy remained eggless on his property.


indian myna 2

Myna Bird (native)



New Zealand Falcon





The only owl we saw in New Zealand. Since owls are typically nocturnal, I guess we were lucky to spot one eye almost open to the light of day.


dusky moorhen

Dusky Moorhen or Gallinule



Northern Mallard


   spurwing 2 spurwing 1

Spurwing Plover


I spotted a pair of these birds in a field, as we were driving away from Queenstown and towards Dunedin.  Little did I know that I would see many, many more of these plovers over the course of the next few weeks.  They were ubiquitous in New Zealand and Australia and fun to watch, as they slowly walked along, in city parks, and quiet fields, in search of insects to eat.  I never saw the aggressive spurs protruding from their wings.



Australian Pelican


We saw these big birds in Dunedin Harbour as they cruised along, but we did not know exactly how large they were until our daughter, Eleanor, was attacked by one (or “nipped at” with its sharp beak, anyway) at a Wildlife Park in Port Douglas, Australia.  In New Zealand we did not see them diving for food, but cruising.  Even on the windiest of days, they are able to float just inches above the water line and sail along for hundreds of yards, without moving a feather.  They make it seem effortless.


  royal spoonbill 2 royal spoonbill 1

Royal Spoonbill


We saw a Spoonbill moving its head back and forth, in that rhythmic pattern, while feeding in Dunedin Harbour.  I spotted a lone male amidst the shags, and gulls, standing along and doing his feeding.  I was lucky to spot him, as he blended into the water and waves and white caps.  Not as colorful as the Roseated Spoonbill, this is still an impressive shore feeding bird, particularly the male, with his long white head feathers, jutting from the back of his head.  The professional pictures above capture the Royal race of the species well. (Web photos.)



Black-Necked Stilt



White-Necked Heron





 heron 2

White-Faced Heron



Australian White Ibis


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.