New Zealand's best birds of prey
While many birds hunt for their food, it takes a certain set of features for one to be known as a ‘bird of prey’ or ‘raptor’. A bird of prey is one that uses its feet to catch their food, and they also have a hooked bill that’s used to tear its catch apart for easier eating.
New Zealand is home to several bird of prey species, and was once where you would find the massive Haast Eagle, which is now extinct, but still fearsome by reputation.
Here’s a little on each of our menacing birds of prey!
New Zealand Falcon
The New Zealand Falcon, or ‘Karearea’, is one of just four species of forest falcons in the world (there are 38 falcon species worldwide). It’s the rarest of all our birds of prey, and won the prestigious title of bird of the year in 2012. This bird is one of the most aggressive falcons in the world, and will have no qualms about attacking a human with its sharp talons should he or she get too close to the nest. They can fly at up to 200km/h, and will often attack animals much larger than itself.
The Swamp Harrier is by far the most common of New Zealand’s raptor birds, and is actually extremely useful in our day-to-day lives. If you see a large bird picking up the pieces of carrion from the roadside, it’s likely that it’s a Swamp Harrier. They’re great rat and mouse catchers and are plentiful around the country, eating everything from small mammals to other birds and lizards. You’ll also find this species throughout Australasia pretty much anywhere in the open country.
The Morepork is a very special bird, as it’s our very own native owl species. With a distinctive call that you’ll likely hear around dusk, the morepork (or ‘ruru’) can be found in forest land and on plenty of our offshore islands. We regularly spot morepork during out night-time tours from Auckland when we head to Tawharanui. They sleep during the day and hunt at night, but generally eat smaller prey than our other raptor birds, feasting instead on moths, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, rats, mice, and even the odd smaller bird. And while you might hear its call, it’s unlikely you’ll hear the morepork in flight, as it is a particularly silent glider.
While sadly now extinct, the Haast Eagle was once the largest bird of prey on the planet with a wingspan of 2-3 metres. They weighed as much as 13 kilograms, and according to myth, were apparently quite the menace to many early settlers. They are known in Maori legend as ‘Pouakai’, and had talons that were roughly 9cm long – which is about the same length as those you would find on a tiger. They went extinct around the same time as the moa, and despite the fact that the moa was significantly larger (weighing as much as 200 kilograms), the Haast Eagle would prey on this massive flightless bird.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist