Birds of New Zealand

Some of New Zealand’s More Common Birds

A rainbow sweeps around our motor vessel in Milford Sound. An ocean trip from here could garner twenty species of pelagic birds – we did see Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator), lots of distant Pintado Petrel (Daption capense or Cape Pigeon) and two Southern Royal Albatrosses (Diomedea epomophora). 
There are two species of gull that are common in New Zealand. This is the Red-billed Gull (Larus novaehollandiae) which is found along the coast throughout the area and also on the large lakes of North Island. 

I have mentioned previously that New Zealand (like many islands and island chains) has been impacted by colonization in ways that have eliminated native flora and fauna. On many island chains the birds had time to adapt to specific circumstances before humans arrived. There is the obvious example of the finches on the Galapagos Islands; but the Galapagos Islands also have variation (speciation in many cases) in mockingbirds, lava lizards and marine iguanas. Hawaii was rich in honeycreepers and new Zealand was full of flightless birds. Most of the damage was done (to the smaller creatures) by the domesticated animals that accompanied ships; in many cases animals were brought along in order to be released top create a food source for later visits and in other cases they escaped or abandoned the vessels while at anchor.

Ships were run aground and then completely emptied in order to be “smoked” – this smoking caused all the rats and insects to flee or die in the fumes. This was how Norway and black rats reached many shores. Cats, dogs, goats, and pigs were common animals aboard ships and found their way around the world quite early in the colonization process. Large animals, like Galapagos tortoises, New Zealand moas, and flightless birds all over the Pacific were captured, killed, or collected for shipboard food.

Many of the most widespread birds in New Zealand have been introduced by the settlers. The same is true for much of the vegetation. Some of the common birds are annotated below. I have inserted images of many of them as well. The plants that make Christchurch (and other NZ towns and cities) so attractive are often from North America and Europe.  Redwoods and sequoias grow rapidly here, as do beeches, oaks, pines and larch. New Zealand is fertile, well-watered, and rather cool; a great place to be a plant.

The native systems are still here but in many cases they exist only because the terrain is rough and difficult to get to. The Nothofagus beech forests still dominate thousands of square miles of the Southern Alps on South Island. The mountain tops are often bare rock but the slopes and valleys are covered by this ancient tree. Many of the native birds are abundant in southern New Zealand – at least the sea birds are still abundant. There are penguins, albatrosses, mollymawks, prions, petrels, cormorants, shearwaters, and other oceanic birds in profusion. Many of these nest colonially and are found on the smaller islands to the south of South Island.

Here are a few of the common birds of New Zealand.

The Blackbird (Turdus merula) behaves like an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) and is a very common bird in both Europe and New Zealand.

The Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) and the Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) are common examples of European finches and sparrows. They are now both very common in New Zealand. The Chaffinch is a nice mix of blue-gray, reddish-brown and white where the Yellowhammer is usually quite yellow.
There are still many native birds as well. The little Fantail (Rhipidura fulignosa) comes in to pishing (a shushing noise made by birders to imitate alarm notes and attract birds) and is quite common. The Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) is another small and common native bird. The Kea (Nestor notabilis) is a mountain parrot that has the reputation for peeling off windshield gaskets and other bits from automobiles. There will also be an image of the Pukeko (Purple Swamphen or Porphyrio porphyrio) a large rail-like bird now found pretty much world wide.
The Fantail is common on both North and South Islands.
The Silvereye ia also common and widespread.
The Kea is one of 3 large, green parrots found in NZ. It is often called “playful” but called “destructive” equally often.
They do seem to like cars…. they examine the contents of dumpster and truck bed with equal zest.
The Pukeko is listed as an abundant (or common) native bird in the NZ bird books. But it is found in southern Europe, India, much of Africa, all of southeast Asia as well as Australia and New Zealand. Whether it arrived in NZ on its own or was brought in by settlers is up for debate. The evidence shows they have only been in NZ since about 1700 – so they could have come with settlers or visitors (perhaps as a food source). They don’t seem to migrate but will move when a wetland dries out and perhaps some move a bit north and south. In the southern US there has been a vigorous eradication program that eliminated hundreds of Purple Swamphens as they were seen as non-native and invasive. That effort has been stopped and we are likely to see them spread through the southeast.  
There are 13 penguins shown in the New Zealand bird book. Ten of them are usual in the seas around Stewart Island. This is a Fiordland Crested Penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) seen along the shore line of Milford Sound (actually a fiord). 
The New Zealand Scaup (Aythya novaseelandiae) is one of the few ducks that have made NZ home. They are  very common in the lakes around Rotorua and listed as uncommon elsewhere, though I see them just about everywhere.
Lastly, I can’t resist one parting geologic comment. Though the Southern Alps are pretty much just rock, there are signs of erosion and change. Here a stream delivers debris to the fiord creating a vey nice outflow delta.   The pictures below are of a mountain valley carved by glaciers during the last glacial period.

Thanks for looking in on this blog. Best wishes to all.

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