New Zealand is home to a variety of flightless birds, many of which are unique to the country. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at 15 fascinating flightless New Zealand birds.
From the kiwi to the weka, these fascinating creatures are sure to fascinate bird enthusiasts of all ages. Some of these birds are quite rare or extinct, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to learn more about them!
1. Brown kiwi
The brown kiwi is one of New Zealand’s best-known flightless birds. It’s a national icon and is often used to represent the country overseas.
Scientific name: Apteryx mantelli
Size: Females weigh 4.5 to 8.5 pounds (2 to 3.9 kg), while males weigh only 3 to 7 pounds (1.4 to 3 kg). Both sexes are 1.5-2 feet tall (0.6-0 m).
Appearance: The brown kiwi is, as its name suggests, brown all over. It has a long, curved bill to probe the ground for food. It also has small eyes.
Brown kiwis are quite small, they can’t fly but they have strong legs, which they use to run and jump.
Habitat: Brown kiwis typically reside in scrub-like farmland, pine plantations (an introduced tree), and their natural forests; however, they prefer denser areas such as sub-tropical or temperate forests.
They are nocturnal, so they’re most active at night. During the day, they sleep in burrows or hidden places in the forest.
Diet: Brown kiwis are mostly carnivores, but they will also eat fruits and berries. Their diet includes earthworms, beetles, snails, crayfish, insects, Amphibians, and eels.
Breeding: Brown kiwis usually mate for life. The female lays 1-3 eggs per season, and the eggs are incubated by the male for about 75 days. The chicks hatch blind and naked, and they’re unable to fly. They usually become independent at 4 weeks old.
2. Great Spotted Kiwi
The great spotted kiwi is the largest of New Zealand’s kiwi species.
Scientific name: Apteryx haastii
Size: Adults measure about 45-50cm and weigh about 1.2 – 3 kg.
Appearance: The great spotted kiwi has a feather coat that is soft and hair-like, made of feathers with no aftershafts. The plumage can be different shades of grey or light brown, often with black spots. Great spotted kiwis have large whiskers by their mouths and no tail–only a tiny backside bump called a pygostyle. It has a long, curved bill, small eyes that can’t see well, and short legs.
Habitat: They prefer forests with dense undergrowth but can also be found in tussock grasslands and scrublands.
Diet: These birds are omnivores, eating insects, grubs, beetle larvae, spiders, caterpillars, slugs, and snails. They also forage for fallen fruit as well as berries and seeds.
Breeding: The great spotted kiwi usually pairs for life; these couples have lasted up to two decades. The female lays 1 per clutch, and the eggs are incubated by the female for about 75-85 days.
3. Little spotted kiwi
Scientific name: Apteryx owenii
Size: Adults measure about 35-45 cm and weigh about 0.9 – 2 kg.
Appearance: The Little spotted kiwi is a small, flightless bird. It has pale-grey feathers with white mottling and a shaggy appearance. The bird also has large vibrissae feathers around its gape, no tail (but does have a small pygostyle), an ivorybill, and pale legs.
Habitat: Little spotted kiwis used to be found all over the North and South Islands of New Zealand, but now their range is limited to a few offshore islands and some predator-free mainland sanctuaries. Their habitat includes broadleaf forests, rough grasslands, and shrublands.
Diet: The little spotted kiwi is an omnivorous bird that feeds on grubs, small insects, berries, fallen fruit, and leaves.
Breeding: The little spotted kiwi typically mates for life and builds a nest with its partner. This is usually an excavated burrow that they may line with plant material, and the nesting cycle takes place from July to January. On average, 1-2 eggs are laid per clutch, which the male incubates for 50-60 days.
Scientific name: Strigops habroptilus
Size: They are the world’s heaviest parrot, measuring up to 64 cm long and weighing between 0.75 and 4 kg.
Appearance: The Kakapo is a unique bird with several interesting physical features. For one, it is the only flightless parrot in the world. It also has highly soft feathers, which help to insulate the bird against the cold. It is also notable for its large eyes, which allow it to see in low-light conditions.
The Kakapo is green with yellow and black above. It has a distinctive gray beak, and its legs are grey too.
Diet: It is an herbivore, and its diet consists of leaves, flowers, buds, fern fronds, bark, roots, rhizomes, bulbs, and seeds.
Habitat: They used to live in mainland New Zealand. But now, they live on protected offshore islands, including Codfish Island, Little Barrier Island, and Anchor Island.
Breeding: They breed every two to four years. Females lay between one and four eggs per clutch, and incubation takes about 28 days.
5. South Island takahē
Scientific name: Porphyrio hochstetteri
Size: They measure up to 63 cm long and weigh between 2.3 (females) and 2.7 kg (males).
Appearance: The South Island Takahe is the world’s largest rail. It is a large, flightless bird with a striking appearance. The bird has deep blue coloring on the head, neck, and underparts, with olive green on the wings and back, a white undertail, small black eyes, and pale red legs. It also has a big red bill, which it uses to tear apart its food.
Habitat: The South Island Takahe is found in the alpine regions of the South Island of New Zealand. It prefers tussock grasslands, red tussock river flats, and subalpine scrublands. When winter arrives, and the snow begins to cover these areas, they move into the adjacent beech forest. At other sites, the vegetation has been regenerating farm pasture but is now in various stages of reverting back to mixed native lowland forest.
Diet: Tussock and sedge leaf bases make up the majority of their diet, with tussock seeds as a secondary food source. If snowfall is excessive, they will relocate to the forest in search of summer green fern rhizomes underground–their new primary food source.
Breeding: The South Island takahē is monogamous, typically staying with the same partner for 12 years to their entire lives. They build a nest out of twigs and leaves that lie close to the ground. One to three eggs lie in this nest, and hatching success rates vary depending on location–between 25% and 80%.
6. Auckland Island teal
Scientific name: Anas aucklandica
Size: They are small ducks, measuring only 38–42 cm in length.
Appearance: The Auckland Island teal is a small dabbling duck. The male has a dark brown head with a greenish sheen, and the rest of its body is blackish-brown. The female is similar in appearance but has a dark brown head and a light brown body. The Auckland Island teal also has dark-grey legs and feet and dark brown eyes with white eye rings.
Diet: The Auckland Island teal feeds on aquatic plants, seeds, crabs, mollusks, small invertebrates, terrestrial arthropods, and their larvae.
Habitat: Auckland Island teal is primarily observed fossicking the shoreline and windrows of kelp on protected shorelines. They also occur along peaty streams and on pools in wetlands with abundant sedge and tussock cover.
On Disappointment Island, it only inhabits seepages near seabird burrows and mollymawk nests; never coming ashore. If you want to find it though, you’ll have better luck on Adams Island where it occasionally pops up high on the island’s southern slopes in streams.
Breeding: The Auckland Island teal breeds in spring and summer. The female usually lays three to four eggs in the nest, which is located at the base of a tussock or sedge clump, or in ferns. The eggs hatch after 30-35 days. Both parents take care of the young.
7. Campbell Island teal
Scientific name: Anas nesiotis
Size: They measure about 43 cm in length.
Appearance: Both sexes are dark brown, but they can be distinguished by their plumage and size. Males have a sepia coloration with a green iridescence on the head and back, dark chestnut breasts, a lighter brown abdomen, and a white patch at the tail base. Females are dark brown with paler abdomens. They all have dark brown eyes and conspicuous white eye rings. The bill, legs, and feet are dark-grey.
Diet: The Campbell Island teal is omnivorous, feeding on seeds, amphipods, insects, and invertebrates.
Habitat: Its natural home is a grassland where the main plants are Poa tussock grass, ferns, and large herbs. They also live in burrows and use pathways made by petrel birds that nest on the same islands.
The Campbell Island teal is found in wetland areas of the Campbell Islands, Dent Islands, and Codfish Islands.
Breeding: The Campbell Island teal breeds at the end of November and from January to February. The female usually lays two to five eggs in the nest, which is located at the base of a tussock or sedge clump, or in ferns. The eggs hatch after 30-34 days. Both parents take care of the young.
Scientific name: Gallirallus australis
Size: Weka is roughly the size of a chicken, weighing about 532–1,605 g and measuring about 20–24 inches. Males are larger than females.
Appearance: The plumage is dark brown mottled with black and grey, except for the light-colored breast and belly. The legs are pinkish-red, and the beak is reddish-brown. The juvenile has browner plumage than the adult.
Diet: The weka is an omnivore and feeds on a wide variety of food items. These include insects and their eggs, grubs, ants, earthworms, frogs, lizards, small mammals, small birds, leaves, berries, grass, and seeds.
Habitat: Weka is found in various forests, as well as sub-alpine grasslands, dunes, rocky coasts, and some semi-urban areas.
Breeding: The nest is a scrape in the ground under the cover of thick vegetation, lined with leaves, grass, and feathers. The female usually lays 4 eggs, which hatch after about 30 days. Both parents take care of the chicks.
9. Yellow-eyed penguin
The yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho or tarakaka) is a penguin native to New Zealand.
Scientific name: Megadyptes antipodes
Size: It is the third largest penguin species, after the emperor penguin and the king penguin. The average weight is around 5.53 kg for males and 5.13 kg for females. The average height is 62–79 cm for both sexes.
Appearance: A band of yellow feathers surrounds its eyes and head, while the forehead, crown, and sides of its face are slate grey with golden yellow flecks. The rest of its plumage is predominantly blueish-black, with a white underside. Its feet are pink with a black edge. Its beak is pinkish with an orange tip. It has yellow eyes, as its name suggests. Juveniles are all greyish-black.
Diet: Its diet consists of fish (including blue cod, opal fish, and red cod) jellyfish, and squid.
Habitat: The yellow-eyed penguin is found on the coasts of New Zealand and the Auckland Islands. It breeds on the mainland of New Zealand, as well as offshore islands such as Stewart Island/Rakiura, Codfish Island/Whenua Hou, Mana, Motuihe, and Little Barrier Island/Hauturu-o-Toi.
Breeding: The nesting season is from late September to early December. They build their nests out of vegetation, such as twigs, grass, and leaves. Two eggs are laid and the incubation period is around 39-51 days. The chicks fledge from mid-February to April.
10. Fiordland crested penguin
The Fiordland crested penguin (tawaki) is a penguin endemic to New Zealand.
Scientific name: Eudyptes pachyrhynchus
Size: It is the second largest species of crested penguin, after the royal penguin. The average weight is around 4 kg. The average height is 60 cm.
Appearance: It has a white underside with a slate grey back and flippers. It has a yellow crest on its head, which gives it its name. Its beak is orange and its eyes are red. Juveniles are similar in appearance to adults, but their plumage is darker.
Diet: Its diet consists of cephalopods, crustaceans, and fish.
Habitat: This penguin lives in cold, dense temperate rainforests where it breeds and nests. It feeds in pelagic waters.
Breeding: The nesting season is from July to August. They build their nests out of vegetation, such as twigs, grass, and leaves. Two eggs are laid and the incubation period is around 31-36 days. The chicks fledge in late November or early December.
11. Little penguin
The little penguin (korora) is the smallest species of penguin.
Scientific name: Eudyptula minor
Size: It is around 30-32 cm in height and 1.5 kg in weight.
Appearance: It has a blue-grey back and a white underside. Its flippers are blue-grey with black tips. It has a black curved beak with silver-grey eyes and pale pink feet.
Diet: Its diet consists of small fish, squid, and crustaceans.
Habitat: Little penguins are found on the coasts of New Zealand, Australia, Chile, and the Falkland Islands. They breed on mainland New Zealand, as well as offshore islands such as Stewart Island/Rakiura, Codfish Island/Whenua Hou, Mana, Motuihe, and Little Barrier Island/Hauturu-o-Toi.
Breeding: Two eggs are laid and the incubation period is around 35 days, Both parents take turns incubating the eggs. The chicks fledge at 8 to 9 weeks old.
12. Stephens Island wren ( Lyall’s wren)
Wrens are named after the true wrens (Troglodytidae), due to their similarities in appearance and behavior. Though, they are not actually related.
Scientific name: Traversia lyalli
Size: They measured between 7 and 10 cm in length.
Appearance: The Lyall’s wren was a small bird with olive-brown feathers. It had a yellow stripe that ran through its eye, and its underside was grey in females and brownish-yellow in males. The edges of its body feathers were brown.
Diet: They ate insects and spiders, which they found by foraging on the ground or in trees and bushes.
Habitat: The creatures were found on Stephens Island and were only seen twice in areas with rocks and dense forests.
13. Chatham rail
The Chatham rail was a small, flightless bird that was found on the Chatham Islands, New Zealand.
Scientific name: Cabalus modestus
Appearance: The Chatham rail was dark brownish-olive, with a paler belly and breasts. Its legs were green and its beak was orange.
Diet: They fed on leaves.
Habitat: The Chatham rail was found in forests, scrublands, and tussock grass.
The most likely cause of its extinction was rats and cats preying upon it, as well as the destruction of its natural habitat for sheep pasture. This resulted in the complete eradication of all bush and grass on the island by 1900. Additionally, grazing from goats and rabbits added to its demise.
Moa was a group of flightless birds that lived in New Zealand but are now extinct. There were nine species in six different genera. The two largest species are Dinornis robustus and Dinornis novaezelandiae. 100 years after humans settled in New Zealand, the Moa went extinct due to overhunting.
Scientific name: Dinornithiformes
Size: They were the largest birds in the world, with some males exceeding 3.6 m in height and weighing over 250 kg.
Appearance: Moa were covered in feathers from head to toe, with colors that ranged from light brown to black. They had long necks and legs. The bills of different species vary from robust and pointed, to sharp and snip branches, flax, and leaves; while weaker rounded ones are more suited for plucking soft fruit.
Diet: Moa were herbivores and primarily fed on leaves, grasses, and twigs.
Habitat: Moa lived in forests, shrubland, and subalpine ecosystems.
Breeding: Not much is known about moa breeding habits, as only around 30 eggs have ever been found.
Scientific name: Aptornis
Size: It was the largest member of the order of Apterygiformes, reaching a height of 0.8 m and a weight of up to 18 kg.
Appearance: The adzebill (tokoeka) was a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand, a giant killer in the shape of a goose. The bird had a massive beak that looked like it could break through anything, and its legs were incredibly strong.
Diet: Its diet consisted of invertebrates, such as snails, earthworms, and grubs.
Habitat: The adzebill was found in the lowlands throughout New Zealand.
Extinction: Extinction occurred before European explorers arrived.