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Endangered Native Birds of New Zealand.


By dwyllis


As an enthusiastic bird-lover, I have over recent years, since my return to live in NZ, taken a great interest in our native birdlife. In NZ we are blessed with an interesting & colourful variety of native birds, many of them found nowhere else in the world. But sadly, “NZ has lost more bird species than any other nation. We also have more bird species at risk as a percentage of what remains, than any other nation.” Predatory mammals such as possum, feral cats, stoats, & ferrets are responsible for the loss of an estimated 26 Million of our native birds Each Year.

As many of us who enjoy gardening, also enjoy the birds which we share our gardens/countryside/forests with, I thought there might be people on this site who would be interested in this blog …. well, I hope so. At the bottom of these photos, I have added some of our native birds already extinct, though I have not included an image of our Haast’s Eagle, which was the largest eagle ever to have lived … with a wingspan of up to 3 metres wide, it was not a good flier, & glided rather than soared. As the huge Moa bird was one of its main sources of food, when the Moa became extinct, the Haast’s Eagle quickly followed. Skeletal remains of both Moa & Haast’s Eagles are all that are left.

Below …. NZ Whio or Blue Duck. Endemic to NZ, so not found anywhere else in the world. It is a threatened species due to stoats & possums & is now part of a ten year recovery breeding programme.

The NZ Black Stilt … one of the world’s rarest wading birds. By August 2000 there were only 48 left in the wild, with another 20 in captivity.

NZ Kakapo Parrot … the only flightless & nocturnal parrot in the world. Also the heaviest. Found only in New Zealand.. By 1970s, only a few isolated birds were known to exist in Fiordlands in South Island. 200 more were discovered on off-shore Steward Island in 1977, but were in rapid decline through predation by feral cats, until on brink of extinction. Remaining Kakapo were moved to two offshore islands with no predators. By 2002 the population has risen to just 86 birds & are on endangered list.

NZ Morepork Owl … our only surviving native owl, it is a protected bird of prey now. On our offshore Norfolk Island, this little owl was down to just One female in 1987, but thanks to two of our male Moreporks from the mainland, the population is now into double figures. The Morepork is a superb night hunter.

The NZ Saddleback … their breeding behaviour of nesting close to the ground, make them especially vulnerable to predation from introduced mammals (possums, rats, stoats). By the turn of 20th century they were extinct on the mainland, with just a confirmed few on two offshore islands. Ony a swift rescue operation by NZ wildlife service saved this species from extinction “by the skin of its teeth”. Population is now up to 700, spread over 11 small offshore islands, from the original 36 which was all that remained of this bird. The recovery of the Saddleback is considered to be one of NZ’s greatest conservation success stories.

The NZ Kokako … Forest bird. Found only in NZ. One of 3 species of NZ wattlebird – the other 2 being the endangered Tieke (Saddleback .. see above) & the now extinct Huia .. last confirmed sighting in 1904. Previously widespread, the Kokako population throughout NZ have been decimated by introduced predators. The South Island subspecies, with orange wattle, is now thought to be extinct with no confirmed sightings for several decades. The Kokako is a poor flier, preferring to hop & leap. North Island Kokako is now Endangered with an estimated 750 pairs in existence in 2009.

NZ Takahe … Flightless. Indigenous to NZ. It was thought to be extinct in 1898. However, after a carefully planned search effort, the bird was rediscovered in 1948 in the South Island. A related species, the North Island Takahe is extinct now. The near-extinction of the Takahe is due to over-hunting in 19th Century & introduced predators. Recovery efforts are hampered by the fact that this bird takes several years to reach maturity, & especially by low fertility problems in remaining birds. There are now just 230 Takahe remaining & it is going to take a miracle to prevent extinction.

NZ Kiwi … this flightless nocturnal bird is an NZ icon & has been part of an extended protected breeding programme for many decades. Kiwi chicks are abandoned by both parents the moment they hatch, so they are particularly vulnerable to predators during their first year of life.

NZ Yellow-Eyed Penquin … Also known as the Hoiho, it is the world’s rarest penquin. Found only in NZ. The population was estimated at between 6000-7000, but only 300 of these were breeding pairs in 1991.

NZ Kakariki Parrot … The yellow-crowned parakeet, although rare, can be found in forested areas of North Island, South Island & Stewart Island. The red-crowned parakeet (below) is Very Rare on the mainland, & only common on small offshore islands free of mammalian predators, such as possum, stoats, & feral cats.

NZ Spotted Kiwi … This variety of our flightless Kiwi has seen a 43% decline in population in the past 45 years, due to predators of invasive species (dogs, ferrets, pigs, stoats), & habitat destruction. It is now classified as Vulnerable.

NZ Kaka Parrot … on the Vulnerable-Endangered list. it has greatly declined due to loss of habitation & predators. Out of 9 birds tracked in an area Not treated for predator-extermination, 5 were killed by predators in just one season. Lives in lowland native forest. Now breeding rapidly in mainland island sanctuary with over 100 chicks hatched since their re-introduction in 2002.

NZ Chatham Island Black Robin …. only an intensive management programme saved this little bird from extinction. It was once the Rarest bird in the world.

NZ Moa … stood up to 3 metres tall when stretch up to feed from trees, our Moa was the tallest bird which has ever lived. Sadly, it was hunted to extinction, by our now-extinct Haast’s Eagle, & by the Maori population, who greatly-valued the feathers for their cloaks, & the meat for eating. Full skeletons have been found intact.

NZ Huia … this bird was last sighted in 1904, so is now declared extinct.

NZ Blue Penquin … also known as the Korora, it is the smallest species of penquin & grows to just 13" tall. The White-Flippered subspecies is now found only on the Banks Pennisula in NZ & it is considered Endangered. Since 1960 the mainland population of the tiny Blue Penquin has declined by 60-70%.

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What a very informative, though sad, blog Dwyllis. I didn't realise that the moa had become extinct so recently...

Are there big conservation programmes in place for all flora and fauna in NZ now?

9 Dec, 2011


There's a difference of opinion re the moa's & the haast's eagle's demise, Karen. Most moa & haast's eagle skeletal remains date from around 250 to 300 years ago, with some being obviously a good deal older. But dating on some moa bones has suggested that the moa was still roaming NZ bush in the late 19th C. Certainly, there are portraits of Maori chieftans painted mid-19th C, which shows them wearing cloaks made from moa feathers. Many of our native birds & other native wildlife, such as our Tuatara, are now protected species working within intensive breeding programmes, with many of the most vulnerable being rehomed on small offshore islands which either have no predators or have been cleared of them. Also, there is a very determined programme of extermination of possums & stoats, & probably feral cats as well in heavily-infested areas. I'm not sure about plantlife. Would have to check on that.

9 Dec, 2011


There are so many species with little or no defences. They must have had few predators at one time? Have all the possums and stoats been imported over the years?

I remember reading about how the bird population in Guam (I think) was completely wiped out by the accidental importation of snakes...

Some countries embrace conservation of wildlife...Botswana has managed to increase its elephant population from dangerously low levels to over 180,000 in 20 years...

Whilst ivory is still on sale here...

9 Dec, 2011


very interesting - lovely pictures - do love birds and sad to see animals endangered - I do my best just keeping our garden birds fed - great blog - will favour :))))))

9 Dec, 2011


Fascinating blog... sad that so many birds are now extinct, or close to extinction ...

... good that there are success stories with some birds, such as the Black Robin ...

9 Dec, 2011


Interesting blog - but it's so sad to hear of endangered and extinct birds.

9 Dec, 2011


NZ had no known bird predators, apart from man (& up until European settlement in mid-1880s the human population in NZ was very low .... still only 4.5 million people now in a county which geographically is a bit larger than UK). We don't have snakes, which is amazing when our neighbouring country of Australia has lots. We don't have poisonous spiders large enough to threaten birdlife. MAF (Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries) works incredibly hard to keep snakes & poisonous spiders out of NZ. Possums came over from Australia many decades ago, & with no natural predators, their population has grown to enormous proportions & they are a huge threat to our native birdlife, as the are tree-climbers & snatch the eggs & the babies out of their nests. Ferrets, stoats & cats are imported also. Of course, we want to keep our domestic cats, but our population of feral cats is growing rapidly & people don't get their pets desexed & will often just dump them into the countryside instead of rehoming them, or having them humanely put to sleep. So the poor things turn feral to survive & breed feral kittens, & they are a major threat to fledglings & to the many flightless native birds we have in NZ. So sad.

9 Dec, 2011


Wow, such lovely birds. It is good to know that people care enough to relocate and breed them.

That black robin made me go ahhhh!!! So cute.

10 Dec, 2011


It is so sad, Dwyllis...and the feral cat problem seems to be almost global. It is fortunate that there are still those islands where breeding can be protected...

...maybe there should also be programmes where the non indigenous predators can be controlled?

12 Dec, 2011


If extermination is a programme to control the predatious non indigenous critters, then there are certainly whole organizations involved with that ... govt & private. As there don't appear to be any natural predators of those predatious species, & they have multiplied to gigantic proportions over the past few decades, I guess a great many people look at extermination being the only viable answer to the problem. NZ is a country with a very small human population & getting funding to protect endangered native wildlife is tricky enough. Such a shame they were ever introduced into NZ in the first place, but that would have been in the 19thC when people did not have the same consideration towards native wildlife that many of us have today. And to be fair to our ancestors, I guess they could not have forseen the gigantic problems these small furry critters would create in the future.

12 Dec, 2011


Yes, that's true least things are being done about it now. Moving plants and animals around the world is very difficult these days.

14 Dec, 2011

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