New Zealand

Incredible New Zealand Animals: Meet the Natives

August 12, 2022

New Zealand is home to a wide range of unique native birds, lizards, fish, insects and even frogs.

Due to our geographic isolation, our native birds evolved to be unlike those found in other parts of the world. Many are flightless, as there was little need to escape from predators. Before pests were introduced, the only native mammals found in Aotearoa were bats and marine mammals.

Whether you’re keen to see a kiwi, kea or perhaps one of our unique dolphins (like the māui, dusky or hector’s dolphin), we are blessed with native wildlife that makes a trip to New Zealand a distinctive experience.

Have fun meeting the locals!

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The Top New Zealand Animals to Look Out For

New Zealand Native Birds

Kiwi

The kiwi is undoubtedly the most famous animal in New Zealand. It is characterized by loose, hair-like feathers, and surprisingly stocky legs.

There are five different species of kiwi in New Zealand, and they’re considered very culturally important to the country – we even go as far as to call those from New Zealand ‘Kiwis’. As a result, these birds are consistently protected against environmental changes and human interference to keep them safe from extinction.

Though these nocturnal birds are tricky to spot, you’ll have the chance to see them in the wild in a number of locations, including Stewart Island, Ōkārito (near Franz Josef), the Tawharanui Open Sanctuary (in Regional Auckland) and in Northland.

If you’d like to see them during daylight hours, your best shot is to visit a zoo or wildlife centre. You’ll find kiwi at the Franz Josef Wildlife Centre, the National Kiwi Centre [discounted] in Hokitika [discounted], Orana Wildlife Park and Willowbank Wildlife Reserve (both in Christchurch), or the Auckland Zoo.

Conservation status: Vulnerable and near threatened, depending on the species.

Book: National Kiwi Hatchery tour in Rotorua. Use the promo code NZTTPLAY to save 10%.

Did you know? You can spot kiwi right from the Stewart Island PurePods – how incredible!

The North Island brown kiwi, Apteryx mantelli, is the most common kiwi in New Zealand.

Wandering Albatross/Toroa

Wandering albatrosses are among the most impressive New Zealand animals.

Like the equally gorgeous royal albatross, the wandering albatross has an impressive wingspan that allows it to glide gracefully through the skies. Incredibly, their wings can reach an enormous 3 metres wide, making them one of the bird’s most distinguishing features.

They are typically grey and white with a pinkish bill, but you won’t generally hear them making noise when they’re at sea. However, if you happen to be near a breeding ground, you’ll hear them trumpeting, groaning, and rattling!

Conservation status: Vulnerable.

Bellbird/Korimako

If you’re looking for New Zealand animals with beautiful voices and birdsong, then you’ll want to tune into the bellbird.

Otherwise known as the korimako, these birds have gorgeous, light green coats and are known for having an extreme taste for nectar.

They’re typically found in New Zealand’s forested areas, scrubs, and occasionally even in urban parks in the North, South, Stewart, and Auckland Islands.

If you’d like to stand a chance of spotting them, you’ll have the best luck at dawn or dusk.

Credit: Avenue

Conservation status: Least concern.

Bellbird. Photo credit: Richard Ashurst.

Blue Duck/Whio

The blue duck is an endangered NZ native. At best guess, there are only 2500 to 3000 left in the wild. If you are lucky enough to spot one, it will likely be in a fast-flowing river in the mountainous regions of the North and South Islands.

These New Zealand animals are typically recognised by their blue-grey colour and dark grey legs, but you may also hear them coming thanks to the extremely shrill whistle noise that they emit.

It’s worth noting that this sound only comes from the males though. Interestingly, female ducks respond with a low and raspy growl.

Though you mightn’t spot one in the wild whilst travelling in Aotearoa, you will recognise them from our $10 bills.

Credit: Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai.

Conservation status: Endangered.

A blue duck/whio. Photo credit: Richard Ashurst.

Tūī

Though tūī may at first appear black, their stunning iridescent blue, green and bronze feathers, along with their distinctive white throat tuft make them quite unlike any other bird.

These boisterous birds are also known for their beautiful (and unique) calls. Much like a parrot, they can make a wide variety of sounds, including clicks, cackles, creaks and groans. Incredibly, they can even be taught to replicate human speech.

Found right around New Zealand, tūī are most often found in the North Island, on the west and south coasts of the South Island and on Stewart Island.

They are particularly fond of nectar but they will also eat fruit, insects and pollen. In the springtime, they can be found drinking nectar from New Zealand flax bushes. This nectar will sometimes ferment, resulting in drunken tūī flying about!

Credit: Marshelec.

Conservation status: Least concern.

A beautiful tūī. Photo credit: Richard Ashurst.

Fantail/Pīwakawaka

As you might expect from its name, the fantail is widely recognised for its enormous, fanned tailfeathers.

The feathers are this bird’s most impressive feature, but they also have a proud golden chest that can be spotted from afar.

Unlike other New Zealand animals, the fantail can be found in several different parts of the country as it’s successfully adapted to the constantly changing environment.

Although the fantail is one of the country’s more beautiful birds, it is sometimes considered a negative omen by Māori. It was believed to have caused the death of Māui (a key demi-god in Māori mythology) so some believe that it brings with it news of recent or impending death. Others, however, believe that they are passed whānau coming to visit.

Whatever you believe, keep your eyes peeled for this sweet little bird.

Conservation status: Least concern.

Kererū

The kererū is a wood pigeon that’s far more stunning than a traditional street pigeon.

Don’t believe us? Look out for their incredible luminescent blue, green, and purple feathers – you’ll soon be blown away.

These birds can be found flying around native forests in New Zealand, though they have trouble landing on branches as they’re not the strongest fliers, largely due to their massive size.

If you’re not heading into the forest, you’ll also be able to spot them roaming through rural (and occasionally) urban areas throughout New Zealand. Listen carefully as they take off, as the ‘wooshing’ sound of them picking up speed is quite something.

Like the tūī, kererū love eating fermented berries, so you’ll occasionally spot them falling out of trees, fat and drunk!

Conservation status: Least concern.

A native kererū or native wood pigeon. Photo credit: Richard Ashurst.

Kea

The kea is a parrot that’s endemic to New Zealand and it’s a real favourite here. It’s typically found in alpine areas, sub-alpine scrub, and herb fields around the South Island.

These birds are large in size and very destinctive. They’re extremely strong fliers and are characterised by their olive-green body and scarlet wings. They are also believed to be the most intelligent birds going – something that can cause challenges in the South Island, where they’ll raid cars and backpacks.

Their battle cry can be slightly painful on the ears as it’s incredibly high-pitched, so be sure to keep this in mind before getting too close to these charming parrots.

Known as the ever cheeky kea, these birds really are a highlight amongst New Zealand wildlife.

Conservation status: Endangered.

Credit: Department of Conservation.

Kākā

Related to the kea, the kākā is a stunning parrot that’s native to New Zealand.

Smaller than the kea, you’ll recognize this bird by its olive-brown feathers, grey-white crown, red-orange underwing and deep crimson belly. Just like its cousin, it’s also known for pilfering pretty possessions from tourists while they’re not looking (they’re essentially New Zealand’s very own magpies).

If you fancy meeting these sneaky birds, you’ll find them on the Hen and Chicken Islands, Little Barrier Island, Kapiti Island, Ulva Island and Codfish Island. An urban population is also flourishing in Wellington thanks to the work done by Zealandia [save 10% with the promo code NZTTPLAY].

Conservation status: Endangered.

Kākāpo

Another wonderful parrot that we’re endlessly proud of in New Zealand is the kākāpo. It’s considered a highly endangered species which makes it all the more treasured.

These taonga (treasure) are massive flightless birds. Living on the ground, these nocturnal birds have a range of personalities – some are playful, whilst others love exploring. They generally all love their food though, and are solitary animals.

As there are just over 200 of these birds left in the world (and they only breed every two or three years), they’re carefully protected by the Kākāpō Recovery Programme.

You’ll be unlikely to see one of these stunning birds in the wild, but very occasionally opportunities do come up. Let’s hope that their breeding programme does well so we can all enjoy them well into the future.

Conservation status: Critically endangered.

Credit: Mnolf.

Did you know? The kākāpo is also related to the kea and kākā?

A rare Kākāpo. Photo credit: Jake Osborne.

Rifleman/Titipounamu

If you’re looking for truly adorable New Zealand animals, consider the search over with the rifleman.

This bird is featherlight and known for its small size and surprisingly powerful wing-flicking movement.

They’re usually found in the North Island mountain ranges and in parts of the South Islands, but we’ve also seen them in Rotorua forests (when out with Rotorua Canopy Tours).

If you’re fortunate enough to see one, you’ll notice they’re about the size of a ping-pong ball, so they’re pretty distinctive! Keep your ears tuned into their high-frequency calls while trekking through NZ too.

Conservation status: Least concern.

The tiny rifleman. Photo credit: Ben.

Swamp Harrier/Harrier Hawk/Kāhu

The harrier hawk (which is also known as a swamp harrier, or by it’s te reo Māori name, kāhu) is the largest bird of prey in New Zealand. They can be found foraging for food throughout most of New Zealand, particularly over open landscapes.

Although they’re beautiful to look at, these magnificent birds are also handy for keeping introduced pests like mice, rats, and rabbits under control.

Conservation status: Least concern.

Photo credit: Shellie Evans.

New Zealand Falcon/Kārearea

Sadly, the kārearea (or New Zealand falcon) is our most threatened bird of prey.

Only found in Aotearoa, this incredible bird is the fastest you’ll find in the country – and boy, do they put on a good show! Though you might be lucky enough to see them in the wild, we recommend heading along to Wingspan in Rotorua to meet their beautiful falcons up close.

Conservation status: Threatened.

Photo credit: Andy Frost.

New Zealand Parakeet/Kākāriki

Kākāriki is a species of parakeet typically found forested areas in forested areas around the country – you do need to be pretty lucky to see them though.

The most commonly found subspecies are a striking emerald green colour with an impressive crimson forehead. But you’ll also find the yellow-crowned and orange-fronted parakeets soaring through NZ’s skies if you keep your eyes peeled – these two are less commonly found now though, so you’ll need to keep a good lookout. If you don’t see them, you might hear their rapid chatter that sounds like ‘ki-ki-ki-ki’.

These beautiful birds are generally found by themselves or in pairs, thought in autumn and winter they are sometimes known to form small flocks.

Conservation status: Near threatened, critically endangered and least concern, depending on the species.

The stunning green feathers of our kākāriki. Photo credit: Linsday.

Morepork/Ruru

The ruru (or morepork) is New Zealand’s only endemic native owl. It is usually found in the evening and night, in forests throughout the mainland.

These owls are small, dark, and are often spotted in local urban parks and vegetated suburban areas. You’ll likely hear them before you see them. They get their English name from the sound they make – a distinctive ‘more-pork’ call. They also make a sound that can be confused with kiwi.

In Māori tradition, these owls are said to act as guardians and ancestral spirits to the living, so keep an eye and ear out on your travels if you’re looking for a blessing.

Conservation status: Least concern.

Portrait of New Zealand’s iconic morepork, Ninox novaseelandiae.

Barn Owl

The barn owl is one of the New Zealand animals that is technically Australian, but as they made their own way across the ditch and have successfully bred here, they’ve become a native species. They are, in fact, our newest native bird of prey.

They’re pale, medium-sized, and are known for their delicate spots and markings that line feathers.

Silent fliers, they have incredible flexibility in their necks and are recognised by their rather ominous natural screech.

They sure are gorgeous!

Conservation status: Least concern (but uncommon in New Zealand).

Pro tip: You can meet a beautiful barn owl at Wingspan in Rotorua. They are doing amazing mahi (work) to support conservation in Aotearoa and are well worth supporting.

Pūkeko

If you’re visiting New Zealand, you’ll be sure to see some pukeko. They’re commonly seen and are instantly recognisable thanks to their beautiful blue and black colouring and distinctive red frontal shields.

There are five recognised subspecies of this bird, and they’re found throughout New Zealand.

If you’re trying to scope them out, you should hang around sheltered freshwater streams, vegetated swamps, and roadside drainage ditches.

Conservation status: Not threatened.

Pukeko are commonly found in New Zealand. Photo credit: Russell Street.

White Heron/Kōtuku

White herons are difficult to find as they’re rare, however, if you’re lucky enough to spot one, you’ll agree that these splendid white birds are among New Zealand’s most beautiful animals.

As they’re not usually seen out in the wild, you may want to visit the breeding site around Ōkārito Lagoon in Westland where they’re heavily protected (and where you can also see kiwi at night).

Conservation status: Nationally critical.

Stitchbird/Hihi

The stitchbird is one of the rare New Zealand animals that are extremely tricky to spot.

There is only one colony of these birds naturally surviving on Little Barrier Island. Fortunately though, there are now small managed populations on Tiritiri Matangi and Kapiti islands, as well as at the Zealandia Sanctuary [save 10% with the promo code NZTTPLAY] in Wellington and a few other locations. Keep your eyes peeled for the rapid movements and subtle colouration of these very special birds.

Even if you can’t see them, you may be lucky enough to hear their gorgeous birdsong echoing through the trees.

Conservation status: Vulnerable.

A hihi/stitchbird. Photo credit: Geoff McKay.

North Island Robin/Toutouwai and South Island Robin/Kakaruwai

North Island and South Island robins are very similar looking. They’re extremely confident birds that are never afraid to flit right around visitors, so you’ll be sure to get a good look at them if you’re fortunate enough to cross paths.

The North Island robin is usually found in scrub and forest habitats. With surprisingly long legs, you’ll notice they have slight colour variations, but they’re usually light grey in colour. Interetingatly, are also highly territorial.

The South Island robin is a much darker grey and can be found in back-country areas where they’re often seen foraging and eating ripe fruits in the spring and summer months.

If you’re tramping and there are robins around, you’ll notice them following you, trying to scoop up an little insects stirred up by your footsteps.

Conservation status: Least concern.

A South Island robin.

Eastern Rockhopper Penguin/Tawaki Piki Toka

Eastern rockhoppers are found in the subantarctic islands of New Zealand (including Campbell, Auckland, Antipodes and Macquarie islands). They’re among the world’s smallest penguins at just 20 inches (50cm) tall.

These adorable creatures can dive an incredible 300 metres underwater in their search for prey and can also hold their breath for minutes at a time. They’re also amazing climbers, often found nesting in caves on cliffs.

You’ll be unlikely to see these guys as they’re not found near the mainland, but should you venture further afield to see them, you’ll immediately recognise their blood-red eyes, orange beaks, distinctive yellow markings, and pink feet.

Conservation status: Vulnerable and endangered, depending on the species.

Photo credit: kuhnmi.

Other NZ Native Birds

  • Weka
  • Takahē
  • Tomtit
  • Saddleback/tīeke
  • Kingfisher/kōtare
  • Whitehead/pōpokotea
  • Yellowhammer/hurukōwhai
  • Grey warbler/riroriro
  • Silvereye/wax-eye/tauhou
  • Little blue penguin 
  • Yellow-eyed penguin

Other New Zealand Animals

Lesser Short-Tailed Bat

The lesser short-tailed bat is native to New Zealand and though bats aren’t everyone’ s cup of tea, we think these little guys are pretty cute!

Bats are the only land mammal that’s native to Aotearoa, so they’ve always played an important role in our ecosystem.

This bat is found in across the North Island (particularly in Northland), and in parts of the South Island. It is made up of three unique sub-species too.

Although you’ll often see them in flight, they spend much of their time foraging for food in the forests.

Conservation status: Nationally vulnerable, at risk (recovering) and at risk (declining), depending on the species.

Hector’s Dolphin

Although our list of New Zealand animals has largely focused on our native birds, our most beloved mammal is known as the Hector’s dolphin.

These playful creatures are amongst the smallest dolphins in the world. You’ll typically find them gliding through the water near the South Island.

For the best chance of spotting them, hang out near Akaroa Harbour or along the Banks Peninsula.

With a territorial range of 52km, these little guys never travel far from where they were born.

Conservation status: Endangered.

Did you know? There is a sub-species of the Hector’s dolphin, called the Māui dolphin. With only 60 or so adults in the wild, the Māui dolpin is found in the North Island and is incredibly special.

Photo credit: Liz Slooten (Otago University).

Wētā

You may not be overjoyed to run into a wētā, but these incredible invertebrates have been hanging around New Zealand since the prehistoric age.

There are over 70 known species in the country, and scientists are constantly uncovering new ones to add to the archives. Giant wētā are particularly incredible – when fully grown they can be heavier than a mouse or sparrow!

As all wētā are nocturnal, we highly recommend heading to specific wildlife viewing areas like Butterfly Creek to catch a glimpse of them. Alternatively, you might spot them out at night whilst on a kiwi-spotting tour.

Or, you might find yourself lucky and find one napping inside your gumboot one day!

Photo credit: Sid Mosdell.

Tuatara

The tuatara is one of the New Zealand animals which is undeniably native.

Unbelievably, this little creature descended from a reptilian family that existed during the dinosaur age, making them New Zealand’s oldest species!

They are the largest reptiles we have in Aotearoa, with males measuring up to 0.5 metres in length and weighing up to 1.5kgs when fully grown. They are also thought to live up to 100 years!

As they prefer cool temperatures, you’re more likely to find them in on islands close to the North Island, including Tiritiri Matangi and Rotoroa Island  (or in captivity).

If you’re lucky enough to spot one in the wild, be sure to check out the fascinating third eye that’s right on the top of their heads.

Conservation status: Least concern and vulnerable, depending on the population.

Other Native Animals in New Zealand

  • NZ fur seal
  • New Zealand sea lion/Hooker’s sea lion 
  • Māui dolphin
  • Dusky dolphin
  • Crayfish/kōura
  • Shortfin eel
  • Longfin eel
  • Glow worms
  • Long-tailed bat
  • Archey’s frog 
  • Chevron skink 
  • Otago skink 
  • Nelson green gecko 

With so many amazing birds and animals in New Zealand, it’s well worth having your eyes peeled and camera at the ready as you travel around.

Happy wildlife spotting!

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