Image: Adult NZ falcon by Paul Williams
The New Zealand Falcon
The New Zealand falcon or Kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) also known as Sparrow hawk, is one of sixty-four falcon species currently recognised in the world. Found only in New Zealand the NZ falcon is the only endemic bird of prey left in New Zealand and is most closely related to the Aplomado falcon of South America.
A medium-sized robust falcon that evolved as a forest dweller, and is therefore different to a typical falcon, having more accipiter-like rounded wing shape and long tail. The NZ falcon has now also adapted to more open habitats and most recently to living in exotic pine plantations throughout most of New Zealand.
Initially known as one variable species but with three separate forms recognised (Eastern, Southern and Bush falcon) based on differing size, weight, colour, range and habitat. But recent research has shown a genetic divide aligned with the Cook Strait, between the North and South Islands and it has been proposed that there be recognised a South Island subspecies (Falco novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae) and a smaller North Island subspecies (Falco novaeseelandiae ferox).
Numbers and Conservation Status
There has only been one attempt (in 1970’s) to estimate the population of NZ falcon in New Zealand and the conclusion was approximately 4,000 breeding pairs. It is very possible that there has been a slight increase but being at the top of the native food chain there has never been a great number.
The New Zealand Department of Conservation manages the New Zealand Threat Classification System, that ranks all native species as per their likelihood and threat of extinction. Currently the Bush falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae ferox) in the North Island and the Eastern falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae) in most of the South Island has been classified as ‘At Risk – Recovering’. The Southern falcon from Fiordland and the Auckland Islands is classified as ‘Threatened - Nationally Vulnerable’.
To view the chart of the Threat Classifications click here.
Image: Pair adult NZ falcon by Terry Baldwin
Found throughout New Zealand with the exception of Northland and rarely seen in Auckland. Considered to be locally extinct on Stewart Island and not present on the Chatham islands but resident on the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands. Often now seen in urban areas particularly Wellington city and the Hutt Valley.
Since June 2006, a survey has been undertaken collecting observation reports for NZ falcon throughout New Zealand. A paper published in 2017 detailed the first 10 years of the survey’s results (1 June 2006 – 31 May 2016) and a copy of that paper can be downloaded here.
Image: Adult NZ falcon by David Topliss