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Kiwi Wildlife Tours

New Zealand

New Zealand birds

Giant moa
Giant moa

In New Zealand birds thrived in the complete absence of predatory mammals. New Zealand became a place where birds could experiment with different kinds of behaviour, shape and size - a process scientists call 'adaptive radiation'. Birds used this freedom to occupy niches that elsewhere were filled by mammals.

Kiwi, like badgers and shrews of the Northern Hemisphere, left their burrows at night to sniff out insects and other food on the forest floor. Because of its behaviour and a number of physical features, including whiskers, 'hairiness', scent glands and nostrils for sniffing out food, the kiwi has been called the bird world's 'honorary mammal'.

Takahe, a large flightless rail, became the sheep of New Zealand, browsing grasslands.

New Zealand eagles, of terrifying size, leapt on to the backs of moa, like tigers.

Bush wrens scurried and bobbed about on the forest floor, mice-like, in pursuit of insects.

Kokako, weakly flighted wattle-birds, behaved like squirrels, hopping through branches after fruit.

Moa stretched long necks to browse shrubs and trees, like deer or giraffe.

Brown kiwi


Rifleman at nest
Brown kiwi Kokako Rifleman at nest

New Zealand has 3 endemic families of birds, which are found nowhere else, plus many different unique species. Sadly, the 11 species of moa and many other birds have gone the way of the elephant bird and dodo. But many fascinating birds still remain which will delight the visitor to this distant corner area of the Pacific.

New Zealand has been called the seabird capital of the world. If this seems like a bit of over-hype, consider its location - cast adrift in the vastness of the Great Southern Ocean with islands scattered about a vast submarine continent. Sea-bird heaven! With the splitting-up of the Gondwana and the isolation of Antarctica, New Zealand was at the heart of penguin evolution. Two reconstructions here show, a 55 million old fossil bird (a true proto-penguin) found in South Island rocks, and long-billed medium-sized penguins from 25 million year old limestone just north of Dunedin.

Proto-penguin Platydyptes fossil penguins
Proto-penguin Platydyptes fossil penguins

Today, more species of albatross and other seabirds can be seen here than anywhere else. Listen to a variety of bird calls in the sound gallery.

Stewart Island shag Royal albatross NZ sea lion Giant weta
Stewart Island shag Royal albatross NZ sea lion Giant weta

Marine mammals are also a feature of New Zealand's coastal waters and there are always opportunities to enjoy watching these magnificent creatures on our many boat trips off the coast of NZ. Perhaps the most delightful is the tiny Hector's dolphin found only in NZ and often in sheltered bays and coves where we can easily see them from shore. Other marine mammals include the endangered New Zealand sea lion that we see on our New Zealand Aoteoroa tour and the New Zealand fur seal.

The same evolutionary forces that acted on birds, also acted on invertebrates. Some became large and flightless, and resulted in unique forms such as the giant weta.

A country of islands   |   New Zealand birds
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