New Zealand birds
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.
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.
||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
||NZ sea lion
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.
of islands |
New Zealand birds
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