NZ Birding FAQs
This page has been set up to help Overseas birders planning a trip to New Zealand. Often, it seems, birders travelling to New Zealand ask the same sorts of questions – “Which Field guide should I use?”, “What are the key places to visit?”, and “Where do I see Kiwi?”. This page should help answer a few of these questions, and more. But, if you still have some burning questions, and no doubt you will, please get in contact with us by email.
Is there a New Zealand checklist?
Yes there is. The official New Zealand checklist put out by the Ornithological Society of New Zealand (OSNZ) was revised last in 2010 and can be downloaded as a PDF here. However, the checklist includes areas outside of New Zealand Political region, and is based around a biogeographical region, so thus includes Norfolk Island and Macquarie Island. Strangely it also includes the Ross Sea, so they don’t seem to be able to make up their minds up as to whether it is based on biogeographical or political! Therefore, we have put together what we call the “The ‘Official’ New Zealand Birders checklist”. This list has been widely received by both New Zealand and overseas birders, and can be downloaded from our ‘Birders Totals’ page.
As New Zealanders have in many cases come up with novel names for species found here as well as in other parts of the World, we have referred to each species by the Internationally used common name, and in brackets identify the New Zealand common name.
So download the “The ‘Official’ New Zealand Birders checklist” now and let us know your total if you have already been to New Zealand, or use this to keep a list when you get here. A history of changes to the list, and future additions can be seen at the bottom of the ‘Birders Totals’ page.
Which Field guide should I use?
Well this is an easy question to answer! We are a little bit biased, but we recommend the “Birds of New Zealand: A photographic guide” by Paul Scofield and Brent Stephenson published in September 2013, reprinted in 2015. Yes, this is Brent’s book, so of course we have to recommend it! It is the definitive guide to all of the species occuring in New Zealand, covering 365 species, including all of the endemics, natives, and introduced species found in the country, plus a section on vagrants. There is a lot of text as well as several photographs for each species, and almost all of the 1000+ photographs were taken by Brent over the last decade. You will receive a copy of the book as part of your 21-day tour package with us (one per couple, one per single), but if you would like to order additional copies then this can be done by emailing us. Info and sample pages are available at the Auckland University Press website. The book is also available as an interactive smartphone and tablet app, making this a very convenient and portable alternative (or companion) to the book. Visit the iTunes app store, the Android Play store, or the Windows store to download and install.
Where are the key places to visit?
Well this is a question posed by many visiting New Zealand, but is not all that easily answered. It does depend largely on where your interests lie – waders, seabirds, New Zealand endemics, or all of the above. Perhaps the best way of answering this question is to email us with your basic interests and requirements, and we can put a plan and rough itinerary/guide together for you – see our Pre-trip planning and site advice information.
However, set out below are some of what we reckon are New Zealand’s best birding sites for the visiting birder, starting in the north and heading south –
- Northland – north of Auckland for North Island brown kiwi, brown teal, and places like Paihia (Bay of Islands) offer plenty of opportunities to board tourist boats from which a restricted range of seabirds can be viewed.
- Tiritiri Matangi Island – an absolute must for the visiting birder and easily accessible from Auckland. The easiest island to access with such fantastic endemics as saddleback, stitchbird, kokako, takahe, as well as many other endemics that can be found on the mainland – a real gem! Overnighting in a ‘bunkhouse’ is possible, giving the opportunity to try and see little spotted kiwi. Visit the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi website.
- Miranda Shorebird centre – in the Firth of Thames about an hour from Auckland, this is a great spot for waders. Overnight accomodation is also available – visit their website.
- Pureora/Whirinaki – both of these places are excellent examples of native forest, providing ideal habitat for many of the native and endemic species still found on the mainland, including kaka.
- Central Plateau – the Turangi area is one of the best places for seeing species such as blue duck, a chance of New Zealand falcon, and also for at least hearing North Island brown kiwi.
- Manawatu Estuary – probably the best place in New Zealand to see waders up close! An excellent range of common waders, along with vagrants, and possibly one of the easiest places to see wrybill up close!
- Cook Strait – the Interisland ferry across the Cook Strait provides an excellent opportunity for viewing seabirds. There are several companies that provide a ferry derive across the Cook Strait, so check online for the latest rates and deals. The trip across from Wellington to Picton (or vice versa) takes roughly three hours, with just over an hour in open sea.
- Kaikoura – the Albatross Encounter Pelagic trip out of Kaikoura has to be one of the ‘must do’s’ when in New Zealand. The ease and proximity with which albatrosses and many other species of seabirds (and several marine mammals) can be viewed is unrivalled anywhere in the World!
- Haast/Glaciers – the Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers on the West Coast of the South Island, have amazing scenery, and are also generally good for birds, with kea present in all three areas. The Haast Pass area is good for forest species such as kaka, yellow-crowned parakeet, and yellowhead.
- Catlins – scenicly amazing and good for forest species, including yellowhead.
- Milford area – some of the most amazing scenery in the World and great site for forest birds and rock wren.
- Stewart Island – take the ferry for a chance to see seabirds. An excellent glimpse of what New Zealand forest used to be like, with Stewart Island brown kiwi being relatively easy to see if you stay overnight on the island.
Many visitors also ask about opportunities to visit New Zealand’s subantarctic islands, email us for more information on how to visit these incredible islands with unique scenery and wildlife. The Chatham Island’s are serviced by commercial flights and can be visited more easily, again email us to see if we have any planned tours to these incredible islands. For pelagic trips to see seabirds around the New Zealand mainland, check out our pelagics page.
Where can I see a kiwi?!
You’ll see that several of the sites listed above provide the ability to see a species of kiwi. However, even though kiwi can be found at these places, it is in no way guaranteed that you will see, or even hear these nocturnal birds (they are sometimes active during the day on Stewart Island). The introduction of mammals, such as stoats and ferrets, has seen the gradual decline of brown kiwi and the complete loss of little spotted kiwi on the New Zealand mainland. Great spotted kiwi appear to be holding on in some places. Intensive management of kiwi populations on the mainland by ‘Operation Nest Egg‘ is being successful in reintroducing kiwi to the mainland at certain places around the country.
The Northland area (around Paihia, Bay of Islands) provides the easiest place to see the North Island brown kiwi in the wild.
Little spotted kiwi were found only on offshore islands, but were recently reintroduced to the mainland at Zealandia Sanctuary in Wellington. Tiritiri Matangi and Zealandia are the easiest and best places for a chance at this species, but they also exist on Kapiti Island.
Great spotted kiwi inhabit the northern and central parts of the South Island, with places in Abel Tasman National Park and some parts of the Southern Alps, providing the best chance at this species. There are currently no tour operators that run trips to see this species.
Okarito kiwi is the rarest of the five kiwi species, and our mate Ian Cooper at Okarito Kiwi Tours runs fantastic trips to see this species in Okarito, near Franz Josef on the West Coast of the South Island.
The Stewart Island brown kiwi is relatively easily seen on Stewart Island, best to email us and we can put you in touch with our guide on Stewart Island for a night trip with them.