Connect with native birds | Sustainable Coastlines

Our native birds

Our native birds are a huge part of what makes Aotearoa special. While we don’t have a huge number of species, what we lack in quantity we more than make up for in distinctiveness.

These wonderful creatures are vulnerable to introduced pests as well as habitat loss. Creating new habitats for these birds is a big motivation for people who take part in our Love Your Water tree-planting events.

 Here are just a few of our remarkable birds.


The pīwakawaka, or fantail, is a little songbird that is widespread throughout Aotearoa’s mainland. Also known as tīrairaka, pīwakawaka are a relatively successful species compared to other natives. The reason for this is their ability to produce lots of young and having a broad diet of small insects, making their diet resilient to environmental changes.

What makes pīwakawaka special?

  • You can recognise a pīwakawaka by its impressive black and white tail, which it uses to change direction quickly while hunting for insects.
  • Most pīwakawaka are grey in colour; however, about 5% of the South Island populations are black, with no white feathers in their tail. Occasionally, a pīwakawaka without a tail can be seen!
  • Pīwakawaka love singing, but only when it’s warm. They will cheep when they’re catching insects (listen below) or when they are alarmed. During the breeding season (August–March), they sing extra loud.



As the only alpine parrots in the world, kea are pretty special birds!

The kea owes its name to its call, which, most commonly, is a long, loud, high-pitched descending cry which may be a broken “kee-ee-aa-aa”, or unbroken “keeeeeaaaa”. 


What makes kea special?

  • Kea are very curious. They are naturally attracted to people that enter their alpine environments, which has led to some funny situations! One kea learnt to turn on the water tap at Aspiring Hut campground. Another locked a mountaineer inside the toilet at Mueller Hut!
  • Like most native birds, kea are vulnerable to introduced pest species, but we humans also cause a problem. Where kea are fed regularly, they are more at risk from pest control and accidents with man-made objects such as cars. So, if you’re lucky enough to see a kea, avoid feeding it!
  • Kea are also known to be one of the most intelligent birds. Recent research has shown that they understand probability, a trait only seen previously in humans and apes. Watch below.


Ruru, or morepork, are often heard in the forest at dusk and throughout the night. You can also sometimes hear them in urban areas. Ruru are named for their call both in te reo Māori and in English. Have a listen below.


What makes ruru special?

  • In Māori tradition the morepork was seen as a watchful guardian. It belonged to the spirit world as it is a bird of the night.
  • You can recognize a ruru by its speckled brown feathers and yellow eyes.
  • Ruru were our only native owl species until recently, but have now been joined by barn owls.
  • A ruru can turn its head 270 degrees! They are also very sensitive to light, and like most owls, are nocturnal.
  • Ruru aren’t currently threatened, but experts believe that numbers are in gradual decline due to predation and loss of habitat. By avoiding chopping down old trees and planting new trees (preferably native), we can save crucial habitat for ruru.


The famous, flightless kiwi are a cherished national icon. Having evolved in a land with no predators, they are seen as a symbol for the uniqueness of Aotearoa’s wildlife.

Unfortunately, the very attributes that make kiwi unique are those that make them vulnerable. They are unable to easily escape from predators and are susceptible to crushing injuries. A small and playful push from a dog can be deadly.

This is why kiwi are flagship species for Aotearoa’s conservation work. The state of the species gives a good indication of the state of the natural environment.

There are five different species of kiwi:
North Island brown kiwi  ·  Roroa / great spotted kiwi  ·  Kiwi pukupuku / little spotted kiwi  ·  Tokoeka / southern brown kiwi  ·  Rowi / Okarito brown kiwi.

What makes kiwi special?

  • Kiwi are ‘ratites’, a diverse group of flightless birds that includes emus, ostriches, cassowaries, and our now-extinct moa. Of the remaining species, kiwi are the only nocturnal members!
  • It’s believed that ancestors of the kiwi arrived in Aotearoa 60 million years ago when it was part of the Gondwana supercontinent that included South America, Africa, Madagascar, Antarctica, and Australia. The hypothesis is that all ratites shared a common ancestor and evolved into different species after the continent split up.
  • The male kiwi call is different from the female call! Listen to the difference below.
Male North Island Brown kiwi call
Female North Island Brown kiwi call


  • Kiwi can sense through their beaks! Recent research found that while kiwi can’t see very well, they make up for it with sensory pits at the tips of their beaks. This allows them to sense prey moving underground.
  • According to Māori mythology, the kiwi lost its wings due to a selfless act to save the forest’s trees. Watch the story here.


Kākāpō are one of the rarest taonga of Aotearoa. The kākāpō population reached a low point of around 50 birds in the 1990s. Amazing progress has been made by Kākāpō Recovery, increasing the population to 210 today. Because of their vulnerability to humans and other predators, kākāpō now live only on protected islands.  

What makes kākāpō special?

  • Kākāpō are one of the longest living birds in the world, reaching up to 90 years old!
  • Their diet is completely vegetarian, and like kiwi, kākāpō are flightless and nocturnal.
  • They are also the heaviest parrot species in the world, with smaller females weighing on average 1.4 kg, and males 2.2 kg!
  • Kākāpō are the only lek-breeding parrots species in the world. Males use their unique ‘booming’ and ‘chinging’ sounds to attract females.
A male ‘boom’ used to attract females. 
A male ‘ching’ used to attract females.


The hihi, or stitchbird, is one of New Zealand’s rarest birds. Before the arrival of Europeans and the mammalian predators and avian diseases that they brought with them, hihi were found throughout the North Island. The only remaining natural population of hihi is found on Te Hauturu-o-Toi, Little Barrier Island.

Thanks to conservation efforts, there are now small managed populations of hihi in bird sanctuaries such as Tiritiri Matangi and Kapiti Island.

What makes hihi special?

  • Hihi feed on nectar, fruit, and invertebrates. To avoid competition with other honeyeaters, such as tui and korimako / bellbirds, they feed in the understorey and shrub layers of the forest.
  • Hihi are one of only two honeyeaters in the world that nest in tree hollows.
  • Hihi sometimes mate face to face, the only birds known to do so!
  • Like many birds, hihi are sexually dimorphic, meaning that the male and female differ in appearance. The female is olive brown, while the male is bright yellow, black, and white.
  • Both male and female have a noisy call. Listen below.

Sources, with thanks.

New Zealand Birds Online
Kiwi For Kiwis
Department of Conservation
Kākāpō image: Department of Conservation
Sound recordings: Department of Conservation