Facts about the animal kingdom

Types of New Zealand Birds

Nick A. Romero
By Nick A. Romero, Biologist and environmental educator. May 26, 2024
Types of New Zealand Birds

New Zealand is so much associated with its birdlife that the people of this country are known by the demonym of ‘Kiwis’. This is named after the kiwi, a small, flightless bird which is endemic to the island nation. With its two large northern and southern islands, as well as the many hundreds of smaller islands, New Zealand has a rich biodiversity. The climate ranges from subtropical in the north to more temperate areas in the south. This leads to plant and animal life which can vary greatly, but birds live all over the islands. Many have evolved particular characteristics thanks to adaptations to this environment. Others are migratory and only spend part of their lives in New Zealand.

At AnimalWised, we find out 20 types of New Zealand birds to discover more about the country's rich avian diversity. We find out the species names, learn fun facts about New Zealand birds and see photos of what they look like.

You may also be interested in: The Most Dangerous Animals in New Zealand
  1. Southern brown kiwi (Apteryx australis)
  2. Kākāpō (Strigops habroptila)
  3. Blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos)
  4. Yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)
  5. Spotted shag (Phalacrocorax punctatus)
  6. Kererū (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae)
  7. Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae)
  8. Tūī (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)
  9. New Zealand falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae)
  10. Weka (Gallirallus australis)
  11. Other types of New Zealand birds
See more >>

Southern brown kiwi (Apteryx australis)

Also known as the tokoeka or common kiwi, the southern brown kiwi is of the genus Apteryx. All the birds in this genus are known as kiwis. They are flightless birds endemic to this nation which have become a national symbol. This is partly due to their distinct characteristics which make them so noticeable when spotted in the wild. They can live in various habitats such as coastal dunes, forests, subalpine scrub and grasslands.

As seen in the photo below, these small birds have a brownish gray plumage with long feathers that look like fur. Being flightless and somewhat awkward of gait, these birds are prey to various animals, some of which have been introduced. The result is that these New Zealand birds are considered ‘Vulnerable’ according to the IUCN.

Discover more about why kiwis are endangered with our related guide.

Types of New Zealand Birds - Southern brown kiwi (Apteryx australis)

Kākāpō (Strigops habroptila)

Also known as the owl parrot or moss chicken, the next on our birds of New Zealand list is another type of flightless bird. The kākāpō is a fairly large species of parrot. Before being colonized, their populations were widespread. Unfortunately, wild populations have been decimated and their habitat is heavily reduced to remote mountains.

The dorsal area of this terrestrial bird is green with blackish and brown spots, while the throat and abdomen are softer green and yellow tones. Unfortunately, it is classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ due to predation by introduced animals such as cats, stoats and rats.

Types of New Zealand Birds - Kākāpō  (Strigops habroptila)

Blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos)

There are various species of duck which are endemic to New Zealand, but we highlight the blue duck. They live in stable rivers and streams with high quality water, forest cover and various types of vegetation. It is not a very large duck, weighing up to 2.2 lb (1 kg). Despite their name, they are not very blue in terms of plumage. It is slate gray with a sort of blue sheen as depicted in the photo below. The beak is pink and the eyes are yellow.

Unfortunately, the blue duck is another type of New Zealand bird species which is experiencing a reduction in populations. The IUCN considers the blue duck to be ‘Endangered’. This is due to multiple factors such as the introduction of predators, as well as environmental and climatic changes.

Types of New Zealand Birds - Blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos)

Yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)

While we rightly associate penguins with Antarctica, it is important to remember that these birds can be found in various parts of the Southern Hemisphere. Some of them are endemic to New Zealand, including the yellow-eyed penguin. Although incredible swimmers, they have mainly terrestrial habitats when they are not feeding. Their populations develop in forests and scrublands adjacent to the coastline.

This type of penguin is the largest New Zealand penguin that does not live in Antarctica. As seen in the photo, its common name comes from the yellow feathers which line their eyes. They are sexually dimorphic with males being differentiated from females by the presence of yellow plumage on the head. It is classified as ‘Endangered’, largely due to fishing with gillnets and climate change, although an infectious outbreak about 20 years ago is known to have an impact.

Learn about how penguins mate and reproduce in our related guide.

Types of New Zealand Birds - Yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)

Spotted shag (Phalacrocorax punctatus)

Also known by the Māori name of pārekareka, the spotted shag is another type of seabird endemic to New Zealand. They have a slender body with big feet and a thin beak. Their plumage is darker on the dorsal side which also has black spots all over it, providing them with their common name. A double black crest stands out on the nape and forehead. The beak and legs are brown or orange-yellow in color.

The spotted shag develops on coasts, bays or inlets. Although it is classified as being of ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN, it is threatened by hunting, tourism and the impact of boats.

Types of New Zealand Birds - Spotted shag (Phalacrocorax punctatus)

Kererū (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae)

Also called the New Zealand pigeon, the kererū is a bird of the Columbidae family, grouping together the various species commonly known as pigeons. Its habitat includes native forest, exotic plantations and suburban areas. It is a large pigeon, with a length of around 20" (50 cm). As we can see in the photo, the plumage on the breast is white and the rest of the body is an iridescent greenish-blue tone, with a reddish beak. They resemble a more exotic rock pigeon (Columba livia).

This New Zealand bird is classified as being of ‘Least Concern’, but is not free from threats. These include the introduction of predators, deforestation, hunting for food and the impact of human infrastructure construction, such as power lines.

Types of New Zealand Birds - Kererū (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae)

Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae)

Also known as the kakī, the black stilt is a wading bird native to New Zealand. It is a peculiar and beautiful species, with completely black plumage. Their beak is also black, but their legs are pink and juxtapose greatly against the rest of their black body. Juvenile stilts have white feathers that they then molt. It develops in rivers, wetlands, swampy areas and lagoons.

Like many other types of New Zealand birds, it is at risk and is therefore classified as ‘Critically Endangered’. This is mainly due to introduced mammals, as well as habitat modification caused by agriculture and hydroelectric development.

Learn more about wading birds with articles on the different types of water birds.

Types of New Zealand Birds - Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae)

Tūī (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)

The tūī is a peculiar and beautiful bird from New Zealand. It belongs to the honeyeater family because it feeds mainly on nectar, although it also includes fruits and insects in its diet. It can be very aggressive and territorial with other birds.

Although a small bird, males are larger than females, weighing up to 150 g. When viewed from a distance, the tūī appears completely black, but actually it has a brown plumage on the back and sides, plus a multicolored iridescent color that varies depending on the angle we are observing them. They also have some white lace-like feathers on the neck, chest and back. It is classified as being of ‘Least Concern’ according to the IUCN.

Types of New Zealand Birds - Tūī (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)

New Zealand falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae)

Also known as the bush hawk, the New Zealand falcon is the first type of raptor on our list of New Zealand birds. There are not many with only three being endemic to the country and this species being the only falcon. Its plumage is dark brown on the wings and head, with lighter tones on the back and a dark pattern in some areas. It is a bird of prey that lives in thickets and steep high areas. Its conservation status is classified as ‘Least Concern’.

Learn more about other types of falcons in our related guide.

Types of New Zealand Birds - New Zealand falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae)

Weka (Gallirallus australis)

It is worth noting that many of the different types of New Zealand birds are flightless. This is due to the lack of land predators which were mainly introduced by colonizers around 1,000 years ago. Most of their predators were flying birds, so remaining terrestrial meant they could stay more hidden on the rocky ground. Also known as the Māori hen, the weka belongs to the family Rallidae and is not a type of chicken.

The weka is mainly brown, with black and gray mottling. Males measure slightly larger than females. The photo below depicts a female weka with her young. It lives in forests, grasslands, sand dunes or even suburban areas. It is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ due to a number of factors, including hunting by introduced predators, killing by humans, habitat alteration and environmental changes.

Types of New Zealand Birds - Weka (Gallirallus australis)

Other types of New Zealand birds

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, the diversity of birds in New Zealand is great. With this in mind, we share some of the other types of New Zealand birds:

  • Great spotted kiwi (Apteryx haastii)
  • New Zealand teal (Anas aucklandica)
  • New Zealand fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa)
  • Kea (Nestor notableis)
  • Fiordland penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus)
  • New Zealand scaup (Aythya novaeseelandiae)
  • Antipodes parakeet (Cyanoramphus unicolor)
  • Chatham snipe (Coenocorypha pusilla)
  • Paradise shelduck (Tadorna variegata)
  • New Zealand king shag (Phalacrocorax carunculatus)

Now you known about the various types of New Zealand birdlife, you can read our article on the different bird types to better understand avian animals in general.

If you want to read similar articles to Types of New Zealand Birds, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • Animal Diversity Web. (2023). https://animaldiversity.org/
  • IUCN. (2020). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2020-2. www.iucnredlist.org.

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Types of New Zealand Birds