Kōrero: Birdwatching

Whārangi 3. Birdwatching in town and bush

Ngā whakaahua

Familiar birds of gardens and parks

The habitat in mature suburbs and town parks often replicates that of the forest edge – the richest area for birds. The common bush birds and most of the introduced species can be found here. A bird bath or a bird feeder close to the house is a great place to watch them. Sheltering shrubs and hedges may attract insect-eating birds and become a place to nest. However, cats can catch birds easily in these situations.

Town birds include the introduced house sparrow, thrush, blackbird and various finches, along with native birds such as the silvereye, grey warbler, fantail, tūī and bellbird. Where there is water – a stream, a pond, a marshy area – then wetland birds may also occur. Town lakes can attract a broad range of ducks, dabchicks, pūkeko, shags and gulls. Generally, these birds are more used to people and can be more closely observed.

Close encounters

To get close to birds, it’s best to sit still so that they come near you. Most bird photographs are taken from portable hides – even a car parked in bush may serve in some situations. New Zealand photographer Geoff Moon noted that you’ll see more forest birds by sitting quietly for an hour than by actively hunting for them.

Localised species

Bellbirds, common in some districts, vanished from the Auckland region and northward in the 19th century, but remained on offshore islands. The introduced little owl frequents the drier eastern South Island, and in places has largely replaced the native morepork owl.

Escaped cage birds have established local populations, particularly in northern New Zealand.

  • The Australian eastern rosella is widespread in forest and towns from Wellington north.
  • Spotted doves and Barbary doves frequent gardens and parks around Auckland.
  • The introduced Indian myna has spread through most North Island districts.

Forest birds

Native forest is the home of many species, which often live at different levels in the forest:

  • Fantails, robins and tomtits are easily spotted at and near ground level.
  • Riflemen may feed on lower tree trunks.
  • Tree-top birds are the hardest to locate – parrots and parakeets live in the tree tops but may descend into the forest to feed.
  • Yellowheads, whiteheads and brown creepers tend to live at the highest level, in the forest canopy.

Listening to recordings of different birds is a good way to become familiar with their calls, and locate them in the forest.

Forest migrants: cuckoos

Each spring, the shining cuckoo and long-tailed cuckoo arrive from the tropical Pacific, and over summer they breed in the nests of other birds. The shining cuckoo lays in the nests of grey warblers, which occur widely. Long-tailed cuckoos tend to favour deeper forest – their hosts are whiteheads in the North Island and yellowheads and brown creepers in the South Island.

Both species throw their voices like a ventriloquist, which can make them hard to locate.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Gordon Ell, 'Birdwatching - Birdwatching in town and bush', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/birdwatching/page-3 (accessed 23 September 2019)

Story by Gordon Ell, published 24 Sep 2007, reviewed & revised 17 Feb 2015