Promoting the Conservation of Native Birds in Taranaki and New Zealand and Providing information and resources on the New Zealand Falcon and Bats

Status Native Endemic Birds Unique New Zealand

Status of Birds in New Zealand. The status of a bird provides a quick reference as to the standing of the species within New Zealand. The six common classifications of status are:

  1. Native - species that occur naturally in New Zealand, for example the Tui, Bellbird and Blue Penguin and also includes those that have self-introduced for example the Welcome swallow and Spur-winged Plover.

  2. Endemic - those native species that are found naturally in New Zealand only and nowhere else, for example the Kiwi, Kakapo and NZ Falcon.

  3. Introduced - those species that have been introduced to New Zealand by humans, examples of these include the Blackbird, Starling and House Sparrow.

  4. Migrant - a species that moves either annually or seasonally between breeding and non-breeding locations, either within New Zealand, for example the Wrybill or to other countries, for example the Bar-tailed Godwit.

  5. Vagrant - those birds irregularly found in New Zealand, either far from their natural range or having been caught in an exceptional climatic event, an example is the Barn Owl.

  6. Straggler - those species that stray occasionally to New Zealand from breeding and migrating populations which occur elsewhere, for example the Little Egret.

Why are New Zealand's Birds so Unique?

Fantail (Piwakawaka)
Fantail (Piwakawaka)

Put very simply our native birds in New Zealand are so unique because they evolved over many years without predator mammals. Millions of years ago the New Zealand land mass broke away from what is today the continent of Australia, before mammals achieved the status they have today. The only three mammals known to have been here before human arrival where bats.

Generally speaking our birds then evolved in an ecosystem where there were only other bird predators (Eagles, Falcons and Owls). They adopted defence mechanisms to prevent detection and also tended to be larger, longer living but slower breeders, than birds elsewhere in the world.

Another unique adaptation that some New Zealand birds achieved and others were moving towards was the total lack of the ability to fly, for example the Kiwi, Kakapo and Takahe. Many of these same birds also assumed niches in the eco-system that mammals did in other countries, for example mice, rabbits and foxes.

Why are New Zealand's Birds so Threatened?

Ever since humans first arrived in New Zealand many of our native species and particularly those that were/are endemic have become extinct, are threatened with extinction or are gravely endangered.

This has been as a result of human activity. For example many of our native birds' defence mechanisms when threatened, is to freeze, for example the Kakapo. This is all well and good when eyesight is being used to hunt by an Eagle or Falcon but no defence against a mammal that primarily uses smell to hunt!

In brief, humans can be held accountable for a number of factors that have directly and indirectly affected New Zealand's native bird life;

  1. Lost and altered habitat - cutting down forest, draining wetlands and damming rivers, though there is now evidence that some species are adapting to live in urban NZ (Tui, Silvereye, Kereru) whilst others have benefited (Australasian Harrier).

  2. Introduction of Exotic Species - not only those that were predators (cats, ferrets, stoats and possums) but also those that competed directly with native species for food and habitat, also including plant and tree species and weeds.

  3. Inability and Ineptness by Government and Organisations - many examples over time of the inability of government and responsible organisations to take action and also of gross ineptness when action was attempted.