“You never know what you’ve got, ’til it’s gone.” – Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi
When Captain Cook arrived in the 1770’s he wrote that the bird song in the wild forests was deafening (wikipedia). The songs were amazing, even to those of us who wear hearing aids!
We’re not birders and our technique consisted of stumbling while looking up through the forest canopy.
We also visited bird sanctuaries, hung out in penguin blinds, and braved the waves in boats to see what we could see.
Here is what we learned.
NZ Birds At Risk
New Zealand has 200 native bird species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. Since human settlement 700 years ago, 42 percent of NZ’s terrestrial birds have gone extinct. (TerraNature Trust).
Until humans arrived, there were no native predator mammals. Some birds grew large, losing their ability to fly. Today conservationists work toward eradication of possum, stoats, and rats that prey on flightless birds.
Seven levels are used to classify the threat of extinction of a species: Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild, Extinct. We were able to see several on the lists.
Takahē (classified as vulnerable) – Thought to be extinct, the takahē was rediscovered in 1940 in remote mountains. Their total population is around 300 – with 130 in the wild. They are ill-equipped to deal with predators, they freeze when threatened. This family was in the Te Anou Bird Sanctuary.
Kiwi (classified as vulnerable) – NZ’s national icon, it is rarely seen. The kiwi is nocturnal and speedier on the ground than you would think. The football shaped bird lays a giant egg, about a quarter of its body weight. The equivalent of a human giving birth to a 4-year old child (kiwisforkiwis.org). We looked and looked for a kiwi in the wild, but to actually see one, we had to visit a sanctuary (and no photos allowed).
Weka (classified as vulnerable) – More than once we THOUGHT we saw a kiwi but it was the Weka, about the size of a chicken. It is quite bold and so used to people it can be a nuisance. One climbed across my legs as I sat on the beach.
Little Blue Penguin (classified threatened) – This is the world’s smallest penguin (13″ and 3 lbs). They are at risk as their population is declining in areas not protected from predators (unleashed dogs, cats and stoats). We viewed the Little Blue’s coming ashore at night in a protected area in Oamaru, South Island, and lucky to see a few swimming in Kaikoura.
Yellow Eyed Penguin (classified as endangered) – This penguin is tall with a pale yellow band of feathers around its yellow eyes, and pink feet. Population decline indicates the possibility of local extinction in 20-40 years. A visit to Penguin Place on the Otago Penisula has penguins in rehab and coming ashore.
In Kaikoura we jumped in a tiny boat to see the Royal and Wandering Albatross. They posed for pictures, but for these I credit my new friend, Steve Makin, a retired Business Continuity Professional I met on the boat. (We had a lot to discuss!)
Kea (endangered – numbers have dwindled to between 3000 and 7000) – The kea is the world’s only alpine parrot. It is very intelligent, a troublemaker, and clever at stealing food. We saw them at Arthur’s Pass, but they were not amendable to posing for photos…credits below.
Sanctuaries in Te Anou and Invercargill protect many of the same parrots and birds that we saw in the wild on Ulva Island, a predator-free nature reserve off Stewart Island.
Blue Duck/Wiho (classified as vulnerable) – The population trend is declining. Clyde (below) works as a conservationist sniffing and pointing out Wiho. He frowned when Carol greeted him…but walked past without a pat…or a treat.
Paradise Shelduck (not threatened), but beautiful and chatty as they stopped to gossip with neighbors.
Stewart Island Common Birds
Predator-Free NZ is a 2050 goal.
The Kākāpo, NZ’s fattest parrot, is critically endangered. They are nocturnal and, like the takahē, their defense tendency is to freeze when threatened.
Don’t it always seem to go, you never know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…