I was born in the desert of California, where my parents met, married, and lived for a number of years. While we lived out there, our family didn’t visit much – Ridgecrest was out of the way and awfully hot and dusty, and not an ideal vacation spot. But everyone came to my parents wedding, of course, and I believe that was the only time my Grandma and Grandpa McGahern visited the Mojave Desert.
My mum and dad told me that when Grandpa came to Ridgecrest, one of the first things he noticed was how few birds there were. “I can’t hear any birds,” he said. Gramps was from Long Island, NY. He lived on the water, and ducks, swans, and seagulls were regular breakfast buddies for him. He loved birds!
And he would have loved New Zealand!
Birds are, in many ways, the true “natives” of New Zealand. They were here long before any people, and filled most of the animal ecological niches all on their own. There were tons of birds of all shapes and sizes – many of these ancient New Zealand birds were totally and completely unique. Not only unique by lineage, but unique by behavior as well. Everyone knows about the famous Moa…but what about the giant eagle that preyed on the Moa? The one with talons the size of tiger claws that could crush bone? There was everything from tropical birds, to flightless browsing birds, to sub-antarctic birds. Birds that were adapted nearly as well for swimming as there were to flying across entire oceans without stopping.
Most of the ancient birds are long gone. Tourists don’t have to worry about tiger-talon eagles when they hike around New Zealand, and no one’s eaten Moa steak for over six hundred years. But many awesomely unique birds are still around. Many birds that call New Zealand their home are actually from Australia, or another part of the world, but plenty are natives as well. And certainly less awesome birds are around too – New Zealand (as much as conservationists would argue with me) is chock FULL of birds.
Meet the Morepork. He’s a cute little owl that looks like a baby for his whole life. He’s always hungry, his “hoot-hoot” call literally sounds like “More pork!” He’s the only surviving native owl in New Zealand, and at Atawhai we’re lucky enough to have our own little Morepork living somewhere off in the nearby bush. We heard him almost every night when it was warmer, and even now we still hear him asking for pork now and then though.
Meet the Tui. He’s a brad of beer. No, really, Tui is a beautiful bird marked by his white bow-tie and his complicated, noisy, unusual call. Sometimes it’s call sounds like R2-D2. The Tui is an iridescent turquoise color. We have them all over campus, all over New Zealand really. There’s one in particular I’ll miss – he squeaks and honks and sneezes every morning in the same tree up at Atawhai when I have 8:30 classes.
Meet the Spur-winged plover and the Magpie. The Magpie is like the crow around here. They walk all around campus and gather in fields and such. Except the magpie sounds like wind chimes. The plover is usually seen in the fields in the morning when the grass is still wet.
Meet the Kereru, the New Zealand pigeon. This hefty pigeon is found mostly on the South Island. His call sounds like “Hmm,” (some New Zealanders think the bird doesn’t even have a call because it’s so quiet and weird). Sometimes he’s called the drunken pigeon because he kind of flies all wonky.
Meet the Albatross. It’s a bad picture, I know, but it’s one I actually took myself. Google the albatross – impressive creatures. This one was circling around a hilltop on the Otago Peninsula in Dunedin that happened to be one of the few “inhabited” places Albatross nested. The great Albatross are the largest flying bird (though not the heaviest, I think) and have a wingspan of 3.7 meters. Many species of Albatross are endangered, and many are declining, but the ones that are left are quite incredible birds to watch and learn about.
Meet the Kea. The Kea is a surprisingly intelligent parrot. So smart that he figured out how to live in alpine regions when no other parrot has done so before. And he learned how to worry sheep – there was once a bounty placed on the Kea because they were killing and eating sheep. These parrots don’t mind people at all.
In fact, they’re rather curious birds, and they’ve happen to think rubber is tasty and have discovered that people have a lot of it. They also like to take smaller items like sunglasses and stuff – one Scottish guy apparently blamed a Kea for stealing his passport.
This is by no means an extensive list of New Zealand birds. Rather, this is just a collection of the birds I’ve found most impressionable during my visit. I’ve seen all of them, even though I didn’t manage to get a picture of them all myself. After seeing all the amazing birds New Zealand has, I’m not sure why the Kiwi is the national symbol, but we all have a soft spot in our heart for that funny little special kiwi!