5 birds we regularly see on our NZ nature tours
Taking a nature tour in New Zealand is like taking multiple different tours at once. You get to enjoy the scenery, as well as the huge variety of wildlife that you might not see anywhere else in the world, not to mention the incredible plantlife in New Zealand.
Our NZ eco tours are in fact very popular with birders – and anyone simply interested in birds – as we regularly see rare and endemic species during our trips. Here are just five birds that we often see on Tawharanui day and night tours.
A rare sight, but an impressive one, the saddleback is one of the country’s most distinctive birds. Also known as the tieke, the saddleback is easily identified by its jet black feathers across most of its body, and burnt orange hue across its back and wattle.
The Tawharanui Regional Park is one of just five fenced sanctuaries in New Zealand where you might spot this rare species.
A bellbird is a common sight throughout New Zealand, but you will be more likely to hear this stunning songbird before you spot one. They are known for their distinctive ringing notes, and you can expect to hear them everywhere from forestland to parks and urban gardens.
To spot on, look for a small olive green bird that’s darker about the head and fast in flight.
3. Brown teal (Pateke)
The brown teal is endemic to New Zealand, and is the rarest waterfowl species on the mainland with somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 birds living in the wild. While they were once widespread, it is now rare to see one, and Tawharanui is one of the few places left where you might be lucky enough to make a sighting.
Both the males and females are a dark brown colour with a white eye ring and dark grey bill.
The Takahe is a gorgeous example of the power of conservation. This endemic bird was once thought to be extinct, until an Invercargill doctor rediscovered the species in the grasslands of Fiordland in 1948. Today, there are just over 300 known takahe in New Zealand, and that number is slowly growing.
You’ll spot the takahe for its royal blue hue with olive green wings and bright red beak.
The kiwi is arguably New Zealand’s most famous bird, and also one of the hardest to spot. There are roughly 70,000 around the country, but as they are a nocturnal, flightless bird, you will only see them in the wild if you know just where to look – and just what to look for.
We spot kiwis on roughly 70 per cent of our NZ nature tours to Tawharanui, and our experienced guides are exceptionally skilled at finding this shy and quiet icon.
7 fun facts about New Zealand’s flora and fauna
We all know that New Zealand’s flora and fauna is something truly unique, but do you know just how special our landscapes, animals, birds, and plants are?
There is an endless number of incredible facts about our country’s nature, and while we always make a point of sharing a few fun snippets during our eco tours from Auckland, here are a few more you can impress your friends with today.
1. 20 per cent of New Zealand is comprised of national parks, forest areas, and reserves
There are 14 national parks around New Zealand, which together cover more than 30,000 square kilometres of some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The largest is the Fiordland National Park in the South Island, which is known for its majestic Milford Sound.
Additionally, there are 34 marine reserves around the country, which means that no fishing or gathering is allowed to ensure that nature thrives.
2. The Kea is one of the smartest birds in the world
The Kea was New Zealand’s Bird of the Year in 2017, and it’s also one of the most clever birds on the planet. There are just 3,000-7,000 birds left in the world, and each one of them is surprisingly smart (and cheeky!). Not to mention, the Kea is the world’s only species of alpine parrot.
3. 80 per cent of New Zealand’s flora is endemic
Thanks to New Zealand’s isolation – and the fact that it has been geographically isolated for so long – means that the grand majority of our plantlife is endemic, which means it is only found in New Zealand.
Even more incredible is the fact that 10-15 per cent of New Zealand’s land is covered by these endemic species!
4. There are almost zero mammals native to New Zealand
In most countries around the world, mammals are noticeably dominant. In New Zealand, however, just two surviving bat species are all we have in terms of native mammals.
5. Kiwis can live for more than 30 years
Many of New Zealand’s animals are known for their longevity. Our national icon, the kiwi, can live for more than 30 years, and the kakapo can live to be 70!
6. New Zealand has roughly 200 fern species
New Zealand is home to an unusually high number of fern species – 200 or so – and as much as 40 per cent of them are endemic.
7. The Kauri tree lives for more than 2,000 years
The Kauri tree is one of the most impressive on the planet. They can grow to 16 metres in girth and 50 metres in height, and once were so common they could be found all over New Zealand. Today, they are threatened by the Kauri dieback disease, but with proper care and conservation techniques, we should be able to continue visiting these forest giants during our nature tours for years to come.
Where is the highest rate of threatened species on earth?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature keeps the world’s most comprehensive inventory of threatened and endangered species. On it, there are 41,415 threatened species.
And out of all the countries in the world, New Zealand currently has the most threatened species of them all, with more than 4,000 throughout the country. This includes mammals, birds, and plantlife.
New Zealand’s endangered species ambassador Nicola Toki recently spoke with the AM Show, highlighting the fact that while many Kiwis are concerned about conservation and the environment, not many people realise we are actually undergoing a “biodiversity crisis”.
While the government has set a goal for a pest-free New Zealand by 2050, Ms Toki said that even the small things that Kiwis do at home can help to encourage local populations of threatened species. For example, planting trees in the community and reducing rat populations has a real effect on bringing birds such as the kakapo back into the ecosystem, she said.
“This is something we can actually get out there and do with our families and see the tangible results,” she added.
The idea of banning domestic cats for conservation purposes has been a hot topic lately, but Ms Toki thinks that while responsible ownership is important, banning this household favourite pet may be a step too far. Instead, homeowners should microchip their furred friends, and keep an eye on them when they’re outside whenever possible.
As Ms Toki pointed out, community involvement makes conservation easier, which is why we often volunteer with local conservation projects and encourage our Auckland eco tour guests to get involved whenever possible as well.
Predator trapping in New Zealand
Predators such as stoats, rats, ferrets and possums pose huge threats to native, endemic and threatened species throughout New Zealand.
As many as 27 kiwis are killed by predators every single week, and in areas where predator control is not in place, 95 per cent of kiwi will die before reaching breeding age (compared with 50-60 per cent in controlled areas).
In order to protect the kiwi and countless other species in New Zealand, predator trapping is a vital key. This is the process of trapping pests in order to remove them from the environment, and it is carried out by the Department of Conservation, by interested community groups, and even by homeowners throughout New Zealand.
One of New Zealand’s most audacious goals is to create a predator-free environment throughout the country by 2050. If we are to reach this goal and protect our most threatened species, trapping will play a huge role in this endeavour.
How it works
The trap and the bait will often depend on the predator itself. For example, Predator Free New Zealand offers guides for catching rats, stoats, ferrets and possums, including which traps are best for each case. The Department of Conservation also offers multiple YouTube videos on how to set traps.
While some areas focus on removing as many predators as possible, others keep predators out completely. For example, the Tawharanui Open Sanctuary Society (TOSSI) location is a favourite spot for our New Zealand eco tours, as this is one of the few places where we can see kiwis thriving in the wild on our Tawharanui nature tours.
If you’d like to get involved, take a look at the community map by Predator Free NZ to join the work of local groups and learn more about trapping.
On tour: Tawharanui after dark
While there is something special about every eco tour in New Zealand, there’s just one that will introduce you to some of the country’s nocturnal creatures and critters in Tawharanui.
The Tawharanui Day-Night Tour from Auckland starts in the afternoon, then spends the next few hours heading out of the city and stopping at a few incredible locations on the way to the Tawharanui Regional Park. Here, you’ll enjoy a stunning beachside picnic dinner and a rest as the sun goes down.
After dark, the Tawharanui Open Sanctuary Society (TOSSI) becomes a different world of nocturnal beings – which is why it’s the perfect time for a nature tour of a different sort!
Here are a few of the night-time creatures you might expect to see on an after-dark eco tour in Tawharanui:
Also known as the ruru, the morepork is one of New Zealand’s only owl species, and is the only one native to the country. While they can be found throughout the country, they can be tough to spot due to their night-time habits and camouflage appearance.
The weta is a spindly, surprising large known for their large bodies and long, curved tusks. As an endemic species, they’re one of the country’s most iconic creepy-crawlies, and it’s always fun to introduce visitors to this invertebrate. While they might look a bit scary, they won’t harm humans and are perfectly safe to be around.
The long-finned eel
The long-finned eel is New Zealand’s only endemic eel species, and it also happens to be the largest. They can usually be found in rivers and lakes, although their decline in population numbers has made it increasingly difficult to spot one of these underwater creatures.
There are thousands of species of centipede in the world, and in New Zealand they can be something of a pest for home gardens. A night-time tour in Tawharanui might introduce you to one, and you may even spot a Giant Centipede, which is a species native to New Zealand.
Perhaps most exciting of all possible encounters on a night-time eco tour is the chance to spot a kiwi. This iconic flightless bird is endemic in New Zealand, and it’s extremely rare to see one outside of zoos in their native habitat. We see kiwis approximately 70 per cent of the time on our tours to Tawharanui, and it takes a lot of skill and knowledge to know just where to look – and how to not frighten these timid birds away! Kiwis only come out at night, and their small size, quiet habits and brown feathers make them tough to spot, but it’s always an exciting occasion when we do.
There are plenty more animals and creatures you might encounter on a night-time tour to Tawharanui, and the good news is that New Zealand is home to zero dangerous species such as venomous snakes – which just leaves the fun and incredible ones for us to spot!
Why are kiwis going blind?
The New Zealand kiwi is the country’s most iconic bird, and an article in New Scientist has suggested that they may be losing their sight.
In fact, the article found that three kiwis from a South Island forest were ‘profoundly blind’, which could suggest that this species is evolving and losing its sight. The study examined 160 Okarito brown kiwi and determined that there was a very high rate of birds with eye lesions, with as many as a third of them suffering from eye issues.
The reason for kiwis’ blindness is speculated that sight is not essential for their survival. These small birds have excellent senses of touch, hearing and smell, and the fact that they are nocturnal means they don’t rely on their sight much at all.
Some scientists have even suggested that the loss of eyesight could be thanks to a particular gene that restricts eyesight, but could also mean that kiwis experience greater smell and touch senses.
While it may still be unclear exactly what’s going on with kiwis’ eyesight loss, the article also pointed out that they would not be the first species to lose its eyesight over time. Other examples of animals that have gone through this process include cave-dwelling fish and moles, as they also live in the dark and don’t rely on their sight to survive.
At Habitat Tours, we’re lucky enough to spot a kiwi or two in the wild on roughly 70 per cent of our New Zealand nature tours. Join us for a night-time tour in Tawharanui to see if you can ‘see’ a kiwi for yourself.
Kiwi researcher hopes to give native wasp a new – magical – name
A New Zealand researcher is tired of the bad reputation suffered by our native wasps. Many Kiwis confuse the native species for the common German wasps that offer a painful sting and cost the economy as much as $130 million every year.
However, as University of Auckland doctoral student Tom Saunders points out, the New Zealand native species don’t live in colonies, and they don’t even sting.
That’s why Mr Saunders is attempting to fix the wasp’s reputation, and he has come up with a novel way of doing so – literally.
He has chosen one of the more widespread of New Zealand’s endemic wasp species and has named it Lusius malfoyi after a character in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In the world-famous novels, Lucius Malfoy is presented as a minor villain throughout the series, until in the final book, he and his family turn their backs on the major villain, Voldemort.
Mr Saunders believes the name is fitting, as there are certainly plenty of ‘menacing’ traits about the wasp. For example, to breed, this wasp injects its eggs into caterpillars, so the larvae can feed on its host.
That said, as far as wasps go, the Lusius malfoyi is still fairly harmless at the end of the day, and now New Zealanders have a fun new way of remembering its name.
Mr Saunders took an interest in wasps and spent his Masters degree working on ways to improve ways to catch them, as the current problem is that there isn’t much data around New Zealand’s wasp populations. This means it’s hard to track them, or to know if their numbers are rising or declining.
Even if wasps aren’t something you’d like to encounter, there are plenty of other wonderful native and endemic species that we meet during our nature tours from Auckland!
The mining ban: What it is and why it matters
The New Zealand government has made a new announcement to state that no new mines will be permitted on conservation land, in a move that has quickly been applauded by groups such as Forest & Bird.
The announcement came from Eugenie Sage, the Minister of Conservation, who stated that “the new Government will strengthen the protection for public conservation land by making it off-limits for new mining”.
She went on to explain that public conservation lands have been created in order to help nature to thrive, and also so that New Zealanders and visitors alike can enjoy them. Allowing mines to be built in these areas would run counter to those goals, she said, as it would destroy vegetation and habitats and change the natural landscapes.
Sage also noted that New Zealand is experiencing a “biodiversity crisis”, with as many as 4,000 plants and wildlife species threatened with extinction, and said that conservation lands are one way to offer them protection.
Forest & Bird, a leading conservation group that promotes nature throughout the country, has been quick to applaud the announcement.
The group’s Chief Executive Kevin Hague released their own announcement, saying “we are delighted that the Government recognises that protected conservation land means just that. It’s protected”
While the group is still hoping to see more work done for conservation, such as the banning of new coal mining in all areas and giving the Denniston Plateau further protections, they are excited about the new move regarding conservation lands.
Likewise, we at Habitat Tours agree that any move in the direction of more conservation for our flora and fauna is a positive one, and we will continue to educate and inspire visitors about the wonderful New Zealand outdoors on our nature tours from Auckland.
Christmas gift ideas for nature lovers
Christmas is just around the corner, and it’s never too later to find that perfect gift for your loved one. If that special someone happens to love nature, we’ve got a few great gift ideas to help you put a smile on their face come Christmas morning!
Plant trees on their behalf
For the nature lover who has everything, consider making a donation to conserve or improve nature in their name. There are endless options for donations all over the world for you to choose from, so you’ll have no problems finding one that fits the bill.
If you’d like one here in New Zealand, the Native Forest Restoration Trust allows you to dedicate a tree in someone’s name for just $25, or a small grove of five trees for $100, and the seed will grow to become part of a new native forest!
A good set of binoculars
Binoculars are not a necessity for enjoying the outdoors, which is often why nature fans don’t own a decent set. However, they can greatly enhance any outdoor adventure by adding a whole new world to any excursion. This is a particularly good gift for those who enjoy bird watching, or viewing wildlife that’s difficult to approach in person.
An outdoor ‘survival pack’
Any kind of survival pack gift can be as much fun to put together for the gifter as it is to unpack for the giftee. For an outdoor one, find a box (or natural-woven basket) and fill it with practical and fun goodies that will help with their next adventure. Think about useful things such as water purifying tablets, sunscreen, a small torch, insect repellent, a locator beacon, a guide book, walking socks, or a plant-identifying book. Plus, add a few fun things like sweets, photos of yourself or the two of you together, or a silly pack of cards.
Build a bird house together
A well-stocked birdhouse in New Zealand is a surefire way to enjoy some of our most gorgeous flying wildlife. From the melodious bellbird to the friendly fantail, your loved one may soon enjoy waking up to these treasured species out the window every morning.
While there’s nothing wrong with buying one ready-made, consider gifting that special someone with the tools to ‘DIY’, then promptly inform them that it’s a project you’ll tackle together. This gives you a bit of quality time as well as the awesome gift itself!
A nature tour with Habitat Tours
What better gift for a nature lover than a nature tour? We offer day-time and night-time tours of Tawharanui, and day-time excursions to The Waitakere Ranges. Each one offers a unique blend of sight-seeing, education about native plants and wildlife, and short walking tours, all just a short drive from Auckland city.
Also, be sure to check out our gift guide for hikers!
New Zealand’s latest and greatest conservation news
Amidst so much negative news, it can be easy to miss all the exciting announcements and developments in the world. Just in case you missed them, here are some of the best pieces of conservation news from New Zealand recently!
Frog population booms after 1080 operation
A successful 1080 operation in Whareorino has seen populations of rats and possums take a nosedive, which has allowed the frog population to increase substantially. In fact, post-operation monitoring programs failed to find any rats at all, and possums were down to just 1 per cent. Recent rainfall has destroyed leftover 1080 bait, and traps have been set to ensure rat numbers remain low.
New enclosures help takahe breeding season
The Department of Conservation has completed two new safe enclosures for takahe at the Burwood Takahe Centre near Hamilton. This means that the six breeding pairs on site now have two new secure areas to raise their chicks throughout spring, which can be a huge boost for the Recovery Programme working to support this precious bird’s growing population.
Coastal marine species get help from the High Court
The High Court backed a 2016 Environmental Court finding saying that regional councils would have the right to protect their marine environment. This means that individual councils can decide to regulate fishing activity and protect native marine species, rather than leaving it up to the government. Forest and Bird lawyer Sally Gepp said that the decision could have important consequences for seabirds, penguins, and Maui’s dolphins around New Zealand.
51 black stilt released into the Mackenzie Basin
More than 50 black stilts were released into the Mackenzie Basin in late August, adding to the 60 birds already released in the Tasman Valley earlier in the month. The black stilt is the rarest wading bird in the world, and these recent releases signify big steps in helping the populations improve. In addition to these events, the Department of Conservation is working to control predators in black stilt habitats. In total, it brings the number of birds in the wild up from just 23 to an impressive 106 adult birds.
Kokako enjoys more than a thousand per cent increase since 1990
The kokako is one of New Zealand’s endemic endangered species, and it has seen a population increase of more than a thousand since its low point in 1990. Conservation officers conducted a 1080 drop in 1990 that is credited for saving the population, and continued efforts to reduce predators and encourage breeding has seen the species go from just five pairs up to 60 pairs, plus 29 single birds. The kokako is known for its haunting birdsong, and conservation minister Maggie Barry is excited and hopeful for the future of this special species.
As a company that lives and breathes birds, plantlife, and marine life, Habitat Tours celebrates every conservation success around New Zealand and the world. Join us on a New Zealand eco tour so we can show you some of our favourite spots and species.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist