Forest Birds

Pīwakawaka - Fantail

Originally from Australia, this tame little bird is one of the most abundant protected birds in New Zealand. They are very adaptable and can make their home in forests, beside rivers, and in parks and gardens.

They feed on the wing (hawking) – using their fan of tail feathers to stop and change direction, hover, and pick insects off foliage. You will see them foraging on the ground at Pūkaha, following you as you stir up insects in the leaf litter on the forest floor.

Riroriro – Grey Warbler

This tiny bird builds a distinctive, domed hanging nest. Unfortunately, riroriro-grey warbler's are the chosen foster parents of the shining cuckoo. Unfortunate because if the cuckoos egg hatches first, the parasitic cuckoo chick quickly throws all the other riroriro-grey warbler's eggs over the side!

The riroriro-grey warbler has a unique musical trill and a floating, feather-like flight. They are protected, but have a healthy population.

Remarkably, riroriro-grey warbler numbers may have increased because of human changes to the environment (and in spite of that sneaky cuckoo!).

Kererū – Native Wood Pigeon

KereruAlthough this plump pigeon seems almost too heavy to take off, it flies with loud swishing wings – sometimes doing fantastic display dives.

Kererū conservation is crucial because of the bird’s important role in forest regeneration. Now that the moa is extinct, the kereru is the only endemic bird big enough to swallow the large seeds of many native trees and shrubs and disperse them through the forest.

Despite being protected since 1927, kererū are still being taken for food and are extinct in many Northland forests because of over hunting. Kererū lay only one egg each breeding season. They are under threat in many areas from predators, which target eggs and chicks, and from competition for fruit from possums.

Kōtare – Kingfisher

Kōtare-Kingfishers are not actually forest birds, but they sometimes live in the forest – especially alongside streams and lakes.

In winter, they migrate from high-altitude forests to lowland farms, forests, and coasts. The kotare’s-kingfisher's diet includes mudflat crabs, lizards, and mice, and it dives into water to catch small fish.

Kōtare-kingfisher's make their nests in rotten tree trunks and hollow branches by coasts and rivers. They build an upward-sloping tunnel that leads to a cosy brooding chamber. If another bird flies too close, the protective kotare shoots out of the tunnel with whirring wings and a loud cry. It might even dive, striking the intruder on the head as it flies past!

Pukeko – Swamp Hen

Considered a recent arrival, the pukeko arrived in New Zealand less than a thousand years ago.

They are related to the takahe, a species that arrived here much earlier (10,000 years ago) and evolved to become flightless.

Pukeko is a successful species, largely because they breed communally and have an adaptable diet. They are full of character and can be amusing to watch – they are awkward flyers that often crash land into trees or scrub!

Tītipounamu - Rifleman

The tītipounamu-rifleman is New Zealand’s smallest bird at eight centimetres long and weighing no more than seven grams. The species belongs to an ancient family of tiny birds called New Zealand wrens.

The tītipounamu-rifleman got its name from early European settlers, who likened its green plumage to the uniform of an early New Zealand military unit of riflemen.

Both North Island and South Island sub-species of titipounamu were once widespread, but forest clearances and predators have greatly reduced their range.

Ruru - Morepork

MoreporkMaori thought this owl’s call sounded like ‘ruru’, while early European settlers decided it was ‘morepork’. You might have heard its loud double hoot, but the bird itself is nocturnal and difficult to spot.

The ruru has an amazingly flexible head, which can be rotated 270 degrees, binocular vision, and a flat face to capture noise.

The ruru is fairly common throughout the North and South Islands of New Zealand, but is still a protected species. It is a predator that flies silently, hunting small native birds, insects, and lizards. Since the arrival of humans and the introduction of small mammals, it also eats mice and rats.

The ruru is a guardian bird of the Rangitāne iwi (tribe) of Wairarapa.

Korimako - Bellbird

The korimako-bellbird’s clear, ringing song can be heard almost everywhere in New Zealand. In forests where korimako-bellbird numbers are still high, the dawn chorus is breathtakingly beautiful.

They are a protected, endemic bird that feeds on plant nectar, fruit, spiders, and insects.

In the 1860s, the species was almost wiped out by diseases from introduced birds. Now, the main threat to their survival is from introduced predators and possums, which compete for food.

In the legends of the Rangitāne iwi, Tāne-nui-a-Rangi (god of the forest) sent birds to earth to eat the fruit of the forests. The first bird to land upon a tree was the kopara (bellbird), and the second a koko (tui).

Miromiro – Tomtit

The miromiro-tomtit is a small bird with a large head. It lives in mature, native forests, and is very active and quiet – except in breeding season when the male sings loudly – ‘ti oly oly oly oly oh!’

The miromiro-tomtit belongs to the Australian Robin family, which contains 44 species – three of which are endemic to New Zealand.

The prettiest sub-species is the male miromiro-tomtit of the South Island, with its golden-yellow bib and white breast.


The pīpīwharauroa-shining cuckoo breeds in New Zealand in summer and spend its winters lazing in the tropics.

Pīpīwharauroa take no part in the rearing of their young. Instead, they sneak one of their own eggs into the nest of the grey warbler. Although the cuckoo’s egg is larger and a different colour than the other eggs, the warbler still incubates it. If the cuckoo egg hatches first, the cuckoo chick throws all the warbler eggs out of the nest! The confused foster parents continue to raise the young cuckoo until it is ready to leave the nest – it’s quite a sight seeing the small warbler ‘parent’ feeding the big pīpīwharauroa chick.

Tui – Parson Bird

The tui has a rich, melodic song, and is also a great mimic. Unbelievably, most of the tui’s song is sung at a pitch too high for humans to hear.

The honey-eating tui is probably New Zealand’s most aggressive endemic bird – and the best at fighting off introduced predators!

Although tui have adapted well to lowland forest clearances, they are still threatened by rats, stoats, and ferrets, which attack eggs, chicks, and sometimes adults. In urban areas, domestic cats and rats are a menace.

During breeding season, tui may travel more than 10 kilometres a day to find nectar and honeydew from good sources, such as kowhai, rata, and pohutukawa.

They are an important seed disperser in the forest.


Pōpokatea – Whiteheads

Pōpokatea-Whiteheads are usually seen in flocks high in the canopy of the North Island’s native forests. They are noisy all year round – calls of ‘cheert!’ help keep family groups together.

The endemic pōpokatea is still common despite introduced predators, and thrives on many island sanctuaries. Their nests can be built up to 15 metres above ground and mated pairs are helped by the family group to feed and raise their young.

Pōpokatea are often seen hanging upside down feeding on invertebrates, such as spiders and beetles.

Pōpokatea were appointed by Tane (god of the forest) to be te mana pou ariki, one of the guardians of the forest.