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Identifying New Zealand Birds

See more about:    Nesting Boxes  Attracting Wild Birds  Attracting Birds to Your Nest Box  Attracting Birds with Nesting Materials
 Identifying New Zealand Backyard Birds 
  Attracting and Feeding Kereru

This is an ongoing project. We are adding more New Zealand Birds to this list with every newsletter.

They were introduced into New Zealand in the 1860's, originally in Nelson but later throughout NZ. Today they are quite common and widespread throughout both islands.
The Chaffinch, like all finches found in New Zealand are seed eaters. The female chaffinches build neat nests of dry grass and moss, usually in the fork of a tree, and incubate the eggs. Both parents feed the nestlings.
 In appearance they are a sparrow-sized finch with white shoulder, wing bar and outer tail feathers.

Male Chaffinch

The adult male is slightly larger than the female and has a black forehead, blue-grey crown and nape; rich pinkish-brown face and under parts, fading to white on belly; reddish-brown back; greenish rump.

Female Chaffinch

The females and juveniles lack the male colours and are a brownish grey, with a greenish rump and prominent white wing bars on darker wing.

Originally approx 500 goldfinches  were released throughout New Zealand between 1862 and 1883. Today they can be found throughout NZ, other than heavily forested or alpine areas. They are also found on most of the outer island groups.
Except during the breeding season the Goldfinch can be found in large flocks between 100 to 150 birds, although a flock of up to 15000 has been recorded.
They are seed eaters who prefer the smaller thistle and weed seeds. The Goldfinch are welcome in many New Zealand gardens because they feed their young invertebrates which including aphids and other garden pests.
Although the female builds the nest and incubates the eggs, the male feeds both the mother and the chicks.

Adult Goldfinch

Both sexes are bright red from their bill over their face to their forehead. They have a black crown and collar, black-and-gold wings, and shades of brown, buff and white on their body.

Juvenile Goldfinch

The Goldfinch juveniles are pale or streaked and spotted darker brown, with black wings and tail, but with no red face. Some yellow will appear on the wings as the get older.

Greenfinches were introduced extensively in the South Island and also in the Auckland region in the 1860's. Their numbers increased rapidly throughout New Zealand until they became a pest eating fruit and grain crops. In the 1920's their numbers decreased greatly as dairy, beef, and sheep farming replaced grain cropping.
The Greenfinch will stay in one area throughout the year as long as food and nesting requirements are being met, otherwise they migrate hundreds of kilometres to find a seasonal environment that suits them.
Both birds help build the nest although the female incubates the eggs alone, while the male is responsible for feeding both the mother and chicks with regurgitated seeds.

Greenfinch male

The adult Greenfinch male is slightly smaller than a sparrow, with a heavy ivory bill and a large head. Its plumage is dull green with green-yellow streaked wings and on the  side of the  tail. The tail is black and forked.'

Greenfinch Female

The adult Greenfinch female is very similar to the male but its colourings are duller and the yellow less obvious.


Blackbirds are native to Europe, north-west Africa and the Middle East.
They were introduced throughout the three main islands of New Zealand between 1867 and 1880. They multiplied rapidly and within  60 years they had spread to many off shore islands as well as the Chatham Islands.
Blackbirds are often considered to be a pest because they damage fruit in orchards, as well as spreading seeds from unwanted plants like blackberry. But they also help the environment by spreading the seed of many native plants.
The blackbird’s food consists of insects, snails, worms, seeds and fruit. In dry weather, especially when feeding young birds, they may kick out plants in the garden which have been watered in the effort to find food. When they move on the ground they don't walk but hop instead.

Blackbirds usually return to the same breeding territory each year. Normally the female builds the nest alone, in a fork of a shrub or hedge. It is constructed of grass matted together by mud and lined with finer grass. They lay four or five blue-green speckled with brown eggs, and raise up to three broods a year. The female carries out the incubation during which time she is fed by the male.

Blackbird Male

The Blackbird male is black with an orange bill and eye-ring. They are about 25 centimetres long and weigh 90 grams.
Immature males have brown wings against a brown body, with patches of black and a dark brown bill.

Blackbird Female

The Blackbird females are dark brown with a streaky underside. Like the males they are about 25 centimetres long and weigh 90 grams.

Song Thrush
The Thrush is closely related to the blackbird and have many things in common. Like the Blackbird They were introduced throughout the three main islands of New Zealand between 1867 and 1880. They multiplied rapidly and within  60 years they had spread to many off shore islands as well as the Chatham Islands. They are common in most habitats, except for intact native forest, preferring more urban habitats.

The thrush feeds on insects, snails, worms, slugs, and soft fruits. The thrush is conspicuous with its habit of using an anvil to break the shells of snails. Small heaps of broken shells may be found near a favoured anvil.

The female thrush usually builds her nest in a tree or shrub a few feet from the ground. The nest is built of grass and sticks and lined with a plaster of decayed wood and grass cemented with saliva. They lay four or five eggs at a time and raise up to three broods a year. The eggs are blue-green speckled with black., and raise up to three broods a year The eggs are clear green-blue with black dots.

Song Thrush

The male and female Thrush are alike in size and colouring. They are slightly smaller than Blackbirds, 23 cm long and weigh 70 grams.
They are brown on their backs,  with buff white under parts that are spotted dark brown. They have a yellowish bill, and pink legs.

The Starling was first introduced to New Zealand in 1862 to combat an alarming rise in insects caused by the wholesale destruction of bush as the land was cleared for agriculture. They were selected because they had three desired qualifications. They were able to eat large numbers of insects, as well as seeds, so they could survive the winters. They were non-migratory,  and they were prolific breeders, so that they could multiply and soon overcome insect pests.

From 1862 until 1882 thousands of Starlings were introduced and released throughout the three main island of New Zealand. Today they can be found throughout mainland New Zealand, except in densely forested or mountainous country. They have spread to the Chatham Islands and even further a field to other Pacific islands.

The Starlings diet consists of insects, fruit, grain, eggs of ground breeding birds, and nectar from flowers such as Flax, kowhai and rata.

Starling nests are untidy heaps of grass in holes in trees or buildings, or at the base of clumps of vegetation. The females lay four or five pale blue eggs, and about half lay a second clutch later in the season.

In the winter months Starlings gather in immense numbers to roost at dusk . Some roosting flocks number a million birds.


The male and female Starling are alike in size and colouring. They are both about 21cm long and weigh around 85gms. In the breeding season, both males and females are glossy black with a purple sheen on their heads and breasts. Their bills are yellow with a pink base for the females and a blue base on the males. Their wings and under-bodies have yellow-buff speckles, which, in winter, also extend over the breast and head.

Mynas are closely related to the Starling but are slightly larger in size and have different colourings.
They were introduced in the 1870's, mainly to the South Island to help combat the massive insect problem. By 1890 they had spread into the lower North Island but had died out in the south Island. They continued to spread north, reaching Auckland by the late 1945. Today they are abundant in Northland but are no longer found in the Wellington region.
Mynahs diet consists of
 worms, snails and caterpillars, fruit, scraps and road kill.
They are considered a pest because they damage fruit and also kill native birds. Although many people claim that they do, there is no valid evidence that Mynahs evict native or endemic birds from nesting holes, or kill the young in the nests.

Except for the breeding season, when the female stays on the nest to incubate the eggs, Mynahs gather each night in large communal roosts

Mynahs mate for life and a pair will stay together  for many years. In the breeding season they are strongly territorial and are often seen, in rural areas, attacking Magpies or even Hawke's that stray to close to their territory. The nest is a cup of dry grass, twigs and leaves, usually in a hole in a tree, cliff, or building, similar to a Starlings nest.


The male and female Mynah are alike in appearance. They are approximately 24cm long and weigh around 125gms. Their bodies are chocolate brown, with a black head and neck. They have a yellow beak, eye patch, feet and legs. White wing patches can be seen when the birds are flying 


House Sparrow
The House Sparrow was introduced between 1866 and 1871 in the hope that they would help combat the plague of crop-eating insects that was threatening agriculture in New Zealand. Although only about 100 birds were liberated, numbers rapidly increased to the point where they were doing more damage to the crops than the insects they were supposed to control. The incredibly fast increase in sparrow numbers was due to an abundance of food, lack of strong competition, a temperate climate and few predators, as well as their highly successful breeding capability. In the 1880's Sparrow clubs were formed to try and reduce their numbers. Poisoned grain was laid and a bounty offered for sparrow eggs, which encouraged small boys to collect hundreds of thousands of eggs for destruction.
The House Sparrow prefers to live in close association with humans and is probably the most common bird found in our towns, cities, and farms. They are rarely found in bush or other habitats away from human development.
In the breeding season the male builds a nest into which he will entice a female, which lays  5 or 6 eggs at a time. The eggs are incubated by both birds and hatch within 10-12 days. The young sparrows will fledge at about 14-16 days.
The sparrows high breeding rate is partially caused by the female laying more eggs before the fledglings have left the nest. This means that the young birds incubate the eggs leaving both parents free to find food for their young. A pair of sparrows may lay up to 4 broods per year.

House Sparrow Male

The House Sparrow male is chestnut brown above, streaked black on back, crown grey, rump greyish brown. Its under parts are greyish white, with a black bib and bill in the breeding season. They are about 14 centimetres long and weigh 30 grams.

House Sparrow Female

The House Sparrow females are drab sandy brown , streaked darker on the back and greyish white underside. Like the males they are about 14 centimetres long and weigh 30 grams. The juveniles look very similar to the females

 Dunnock  (Hedge Sparrow)

The Dunnock is often called Hedge Sparrow because of their resemblance to the female house sparrow.
 Several hundred Dunnocks were released between 1867 and 1882. They are now quite common throughout the offshore islands and the mainland of both islands, living in hedges, farmland, orchards, gardens and exotic plantations, as well as scrub and native forest. Unlike sparrows, they are solitary birds and are usually seen singly or in pairs, around and under bushes and hedges staying close to cover. Their wings and tail flick continuously as they move.
The female, normally builds the nest alone, but is occasionally  helped by the male. She also sits on the eggs alone, but when the eggs are hatched both parents share the feeding of the young.
Their diet is mainly small invertebrates, beetles, spiders, flies, aphids, ants and worms. Some small fruits and seeds are also eaten. Most food is taken from the ground, usually not far away from cover.


Dunnock  (Hedge Sparrow)

Both sexes look alike. Compared to a house sparrow, their bodies are slimmer and they have a fine, rather pointed black bill, which is designed to catch insects rather than eat seeds as house sparrows do.
Their bodies are slate grey, streaked with a reddish brown. The dark brown upper mantle is streaked black and it has a slate grey throat and chest with lighter striped under-parts and brown-flecked cheeks. Their song is high-pitched trilling - insistent and almost metallic.  

Silver-Eye (Wax-Eye or White-Eye )

Although several Silvereyes were recorded in New Zealand in the early 1830's, it was not until 1856 that they arrived in very large numbers. It is probable that a storm, in Australia, blew a migrating flock across the Tasman. They have become well established throughout New Zealand, and are now one of the most common birds found in urban areas. The NZ climate is such that the Silver-Eyes don't have the need to migrate as they do in most other countries.
One of the main reasons that they established themselves so successfully in New Zealand is their varied diet which is mainly comprised of insects, fruit and nectar. In the winter when most of these foods are not available many Silver-Eyes do die, but luckily they will also eat fat, cooked meat, bread and sugar water from bird tables.
They are welcome in most New Zealand gardens because they pollinate many trees and shrubs while feeding on nectar.

Outside of the breeding season the Silvereyes are normally found in large flocks, but  the pairs will break away from these by late winter and set up their territories. They usually raise 2 or 3 broods during the breeding season. Both parents share the incubation and the feeding, once the chicks are hatched.
The young birds are totally independent after 3 weeks, and are capable of breeding in their first year.

Silver-Eye (Wax-Eye or White-Eye )

The Sliver-Eye is a small bird measuring 11 to 13 cm in length and around 10 g in weight. They are olive-green with a ring of white feathers around the eye. They have a fine tapered bill and a brush tipped tongue like the tui and bellbird.
Males have slightly brighter plumage than females, but it is hard to determine the sex of individual birds. To do this you normally have to see a male and female together to spot the difference.

Lesser Redpoll

The  first Lesser Redpolls to be introduced into New Zealand were released in Nelson in 1862. Between 1862-1865 approximately 500 birds were released, and by 1900 they were widespread throughout the South island and the lower North Island. Today they can be found throughout New Zealand and on some off shore islands but are still more common in the dry high country areas of the South Island
The Redpolls diet consists mainly of insects, and grass or weed seeds. They prefer seeds, and are one of the very few birds that feed their young exclusively on a seed diet. In winter they will forage on the ground for insects.

Outside of the breeding season the Redpolls are normally found in large flocks, but in the spring they pair up and leave the flocks. The female builds the nest and incubates the eggs while the male brings her food. They normally raise two broods during the breeding season.

Lesser Redpoll

The Lesser Redpoll is a small, short-tailed finch. They are approximately 11.5cm long  and weighs  9–12 grams. Their bills are short, conical and sharply pointed and is pale yellow with a dark tip.
The adult male is largely brown above with darker streaks. It has a red forehead, a black chin and, during the breeding season, pink on the breast and face. The flanks are buff with dark streaks and the belly and under tail-coverts are whitish. There are two pale bars on the wing.
The adult female is similar but lacks the pink on the breast and face and has less streaking on the flanks.
The juvenile has a pale head with no red forehead and less black on the chin.


The Kereru is endemic to New Zealand. Other names are Wood Pigeon, New Zealand Pigeon, and kukupa or kuku in some parts of Northland.
Kereru are quite large birds, in fact they are one of the largest pigeons in the world. They weigh about 650g and are 55 cms long. A larger subspecies can be found on the Chatham Islands which grow to 800gms.
Although they can be found throughout New Zealand in small numbers,
they are most common in the forests of Northland, the King Country, Nelson and the West Coast. Many people consider them the most important bird in NZ because Since the demise of the Moa and Huia, the Kereru is the only New Zealand bird capable of ingesting the large fruit and berries of over 70 New Zealand native trees and dispersing their seed.


Both the male and female are similar in appearance. The head, throat and upper breast and back feathers are a metallic green, flecked with gold and can appear purple in sunlight, the belly is white and its eye, beak and feet crimson. The young are a similar colours but are normally paler with dull colours for the beak, eyes and feet and they have a shorter tail. As with other pigeons they have a noticeably small head compared to their body size.

 Nesting usually occurs in early spring or summer, although in the warmer northern half of the North Island, pigeons can nest all year round, except when moulting between March and May. The Kereru nest consists of an untidy platform of sticks in the fork of a tree. They lay a single egg which is incubated by both parents for 28 - 29 days. The young bird takes another 30–45 days to fledge.
Unlike most other birds, the Kereru can produce food to feed their young. They produce crop milk, which is a high  protein secretion from the crop wall. This is fed to the young bird, mixed with an increasing amount of regurgitated fruit, until it is ready to leave the nest at about 40 days, by which time it is almost the same size as an adult. Because there is only a single chick, which spends so long in the nest, the Kereru chicks are an easy target for predators with the mortality rate being put as high as 85% by some surveys. 

In their natural bush environment berries are the Kereru’s preferred food — Puriri in the summer and autumn, Miro in the autumn and winter and Taraire in the winter and spring. Karaka, Nikau and Kahikatea and other berries also supplement their diet where available. During the late winter when there are few or no berries, leaves and shoots provide sustenance.
In urban areas their favorite foods are plums, loquat and guavas


Rock Pigeon

The Rock pigeon was derived by selective breeding from the wild rock pigeon of Eurasia. The Rock Pigeon is one of the oldest domesticated animals. It was derived by selective breeding from the wild rock pigeon of Eurasia.
There is no record of when the first pigeons were introduced to New Zealand but it is thought that they came with the very early settlers to be used as mail carriers, amongst other things.
They are widespread throughout New Zealand particularly in large cities, towns and extensive arable farmland although there are few reported sightings in the central North Island and along the West Coast of the South Island.

Because the wild Rock Pigeon population are continuously being supplemented by lost dovecot or racing pigeons, individual characteristics can vary greatly.
Both adult sexes stand approx
33 cm high and weigh about  400 g. Their bodies are mainly blue grey with sides and neck a glossy green and purple. They have grey bills and pink feet.

The Rock Pigeons build their nests on ledges in buildings, caves or cliffs using a variety of materials including twigs, grass stems, plastic drinking straws, bits of paper and even just the accumulated dried faecal material deposited by previous broods.
Most clutches are laid in spring and summer although the Rock Pigeons can lay their eggs at any time during the year.  Clutch size is typically 2 eggs, although occasionally 1-, 3- or 4-egg clutches occur. Both adults share incubation and the care and feeding of their young. The chicks start flying when they are about 30 days old, but remain near the nest for another week.
Some pairs with large young in one nest will start incubating a new clutch in a separate nest or even in the same nest.


Originally approx 1000 Skylarks were released throughout New Zealand between 1864 and 1879. Today they can be found in good numbers throughout NZ, mainly in open country like dunes and farm land. They avoid forested areas and the higher parts of the Southern Alps, and are uncommon on the South Islands West Coast.
During the breeding season the Skylarks remain as a pair but in other times can be found in large flocks between 100 to 150 birds. The pairs are monogamous and most stay together for many years. The nest, which is built by the female, is a tidy grass-lined cup on the ground, usually beneath an overhanging clump of grass or rush
The Skylarks main diet consists of seeds, such as grasses, cereals, clover and weeds; also invertebrates such as beetles, flies, spiders, and bugs.

Both sexes are dark brown streaked with yellow-brown, with a white underbelly. They have a small streaked crest in the hind crown which they raise when alert. They weigh about 38 grams and are 18 centimetres in long.


The morepork is New Zealand’s only surviving native owl. They are relatively common throughout NZ although they are scarce south of Christchurch particularly in the drier, more open regions of Canterbury and Otago. They can be found in native and exotic forests, farmland, and within some urban parks and gardens. Its distinctive “more-pork” call is commonly heard at night in many urban parks and well-vegetated suburbs. They also make a ‘quork-quork’ and a rising ‘quee’ call which can be easily mistaken for Kiwi call.

Unmistakably owl-like in appearance, with wide flat face and large yellow eyes. Morepork reach about 29 cm in length and weight about 175 grams. Their backs are dark brown, spotted and barred. The underside is a lighter buff colour. The legs are feathered legs down to the yellow feet.

Moreporks breed in spring and summer. They build their nests in cavities or the forks of live or dead trees, in nest boxes put up for other species, logs on the ground, or within a hole in an earth bank. Normally 1 to 3 eggs are incubated by the female. Incubation takes about 25 days, and chicks fledge when about 7 weeks old. Both adults feed the young.

They are nocturnal and their main hunting times are late evenings and early mornings, with brief bursts of activity through the night.
Their diet consists of large invertebrates such as scarab and huhu beetles, moths and caterpillars, spiders, grasshoppers and  wetas, small birds, rats and mice.


Fantails can be found throughout New Zealand and on most off shore islands. The exceptions are Central Otago and Inland Marlborough, because of the heavy frosts that occur in these regions. They  can be found in a large variety of habitats  including both native and exotic forests, scrub land, suburban parks and gardens.
With their distinctive fan tail and loud song they are one of New Zealand’s best known birds  particularly because they approach so close to humans. They are usually seen alone or in pairs during summer, but will often form flocks during the winter.

 The fantail is 16 centimetres long, including its 8-centimetre tail. It weighs 8 grams. Most fantails are brown above and pale underneath. Their fan-like tail, usually held high above the body, is made up of long dark central feathers flanked by white feathers. About 20% of South Island fantails are completely black.

 The fantail nests from August to March in the North Island, and September to January in the South Island . They usually raise two or more broods per season. The nest is cup-shaped, usually found in tree forks, made from moss, bark,  fibre, and spider's web. Both sexes help in the nest building.
 They usually lay  three to four eggs which are cream with grey and brown spots. The incubation period is around two weeks, and incubation and feeding duties are shared by both adults. Often a pair will build a second nest, lay eggs and start incubation while the  young of the first brood are still being fed. Young males can begin breeding two months after fledging.

Fantails mainly eat small invertebrates, such as moths, flies, beetles and spiders.  They also eat fruit, mainly that which has fallen from the tree and split open.


Bellbirds can be found throughout New Zealand except in the top of the North Island. Their modern day habitat is native and exotic forest, scrub, farm shelterbelts, parks and gardens.
Their numbers were far greater before the arrival of the European settlers who destroyed large amounts of native forest that were the Bluebirds natural habitat. Their numbers were further decimated by
the introduction of predatory species such as cat, weasels, ferrets, stoats and cats who either kill the parent bird or eat the eggs in the nest. The decline in numbers occurred in many of New Zealands native bird species but for some unknown reason this decline was halted and the Bellbirds numbers has climbed again until they are once again common throughout most regions.

The adult male Bellbird is approximately 20cm and weighs 35g. They are olive green with a paler colour on the chest. The head is tinted with purple gloss and the wings and tail are dark bluish black, except for yellow patch at the bend of the folded wing. They have red eyes, a  short curved bill and a slightly forked tail.
The female is about the same size as the male but weighs less (26g) They appear browner and have a  narrow white stripe across cheek from bill and bluish gloss on forehead and crown.
Both sexes of the young are similar in appearance to the females but have brown eyes and yellowish cheek stripe.

The Bellbird diet consists mainly of nectar, fruit and insects. The females in particular require the insects during the breeding season and to feed their young who are fed insects almost exclusively.

Like most New Zealand birds the Bellbirds breed in spring and summer, building a loose nest of twigs and grasses, lined with feathers and grasses. Their nests are mainly found in a tree fork under dense cover. Unusually for NZ birds the nests are close to the ground and can be found from ground level to only 500mm above the ground. They normally have two broods per season with 3 or 4 eggs each time . The female incubates and both parents care for the young.

The Bellbirds song varies regionally but always three distinct sounds similar to the sound of chiming bells. They sing during the day but more in the early morning and late evening.


The Kaka is endemic to New Zealand. Although they are found in lowland and mid-altitude native forests on all three main islands their numbers are greatest on several of the offshore islands and at some sites on the main islands that are close to these offshore island refuges. They are becoming common in the Wellington area where they were reintroduced in 2002 at the mainland island sanctuary at Zealandia (Karori Wildlife Sanctuary), and now have now bred to more than 300 birds. At one time they were far more numerous but their declined due to forest clearance and the introduction of rats, possums and stoats.

The Kaka is similar in appearance to the Kia. Their coloring is olive-brown with a grey-white forehead and crown, bright, red-orange flashes under the wings and stomach and also sometimes under the tail feathers. Both sexes appearance are the same and although the male has a larger head this is not apparent unless both sexes are compared next to each other. They are usually heard before they are seen because they emit a loud harsh ka-aa cry when flying.

Their diet consists of fruit, seed, berries, nectar, plants and invertebrates and huhu grubs.

The New Zealand Kaka make their nests in tree cavities which they line with a bedding of wood chips. They lay between 2 to 4 eggs in the late winter. The female incubates and cares for the nestlings alone for up to 90 days while the male supplies her with food and then both parents care and feed the fledglings. It is common for a Kaka pair to raise 2 clutches in a season, using the same nest provided there is an abundance of food.

Because the female and the chicks are very vulnerable to stoats and possums during the long incubation period there is a noticeable sex and age imbalance in the Kaka flocks



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