Incredible New Zealand animals, insects & birds: Meet the natives

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

New Zealand is home to so many amazing native birds. We’re even written an article featuring them!

There, we’ll introduce you to some of the birds you’re most likely to see and that you’ll most likely want to track down.

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.

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

A brown kiwi bird with its long beak walking near a log.
The North Island brown kiwi, Apteryx mantelli, is the most common kiwi in New Zealand.

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 bird with white feather tuft at the neck, distinctive white throat tufts, and a metallic blue-green sheen on the wings and tail feathers standing beside a bird cage.
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.

A fantail bird standing on a branch with its greyish head, white eyebrows, slightly brown back, brown breast and belly, white and black bands across the upper breast, and long black and white tail

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.

Kereru bird with hues of green feathers, white underbelly and a distinctive reddish beak, perched on a tree branch.
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 distinctive. 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.
A large olive-green Kea bird with a curved beak and light reddish feathers in the underbelly standing on a wooden handrail.

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.

Conservation status: Endangered.

The native bird Kaka with a brownish-red and grey plumage, curved beak, and distinct facial feathers perched on a tree branch hidden within the leaves.

Swamp Harrier/Harrier Hawk/Kāhu

The harrier hawk (which is also known as a swamp harrier, or by its 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.

A Harrier Hawk tucking its black-tipped wings, with brown feathers on its head and body, a hooked beak, and sharp talons, and white feathers on its lower body standing on the brown grass.
Photo credit: Shellie Evans.

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.

Puketo bird running on the grass with its long skinny legs, deep blue underbelly, black upper part feathers, and red beak.
Pukeko are commonly found in New Zealand. Photo credit: Russell Street.

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. Interestingly, 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 little insects stirred up by your footsteps.

Conservation status: Least concern.

A small South Island Robin in the forest with its dark grey head and upper body and white underbelly standing on a tree.
A South Island robin.

Other NZ Native Birds

  • Weka
  • Takahē
  • Tomtit
  • Saddleback / tīeke
  • Bellbird / korimako
  • Sacred kingfisher / kōtare
  • Whitehead / pōpokotea
  • Yellowhammer / hurukōwhai
  • Grey warbler / riroriro
  • Silvereye / wax-eye / tauhou
  • Wandering Albatross / toroa
  • Blue Duck / whio
  • Rifleman / titipounamu
  • New Zealand Falcon / kārearea
  • New Zealand Parakeet / kākāriki
  • Morepork / ruru
  • Barn owl
  • Kākāpo
  • White heron / kōtuku
  • Stitchbird / hihi
  • New Zealand falcon / kārearea
  • Little blue penguin 
  • Yellow-eyed penguin
  • Eastern rockhopper penguin / tawaki piki toka

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.

A group of bats.

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 dolphin is found in the North Island and is incredibly special.

Dolphin jumping on the water.
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!

A tree weta climbing on a trunk.
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.

A lizard in Tuatara.

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 (experience feeding these eels in Hokitika for free)
  • 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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