The endangered Kokako has been chosen New Zealand’s “Bird of the Year” for 2016!


This year 20,000 people voted in the contest. The winning kokako captured 3,614 votes.

The cheeky kea came in second with 2,608 votes, followed by the pretty little fantail with 1,508 votes. (The fantail was voted “Bird of the Year” in 2006)


This year, 54 birds were nominated for the unique competition. The kokako bid was driven by Oscar Thomas who became interested in this slate grey native bird when he was 10. A school tour to see the kokako proved a disappointment for Oscar because he wasn’t able to set his eyes on one. Shortly after the fruitless school trip, he returned to the island in Auckland Harbour determined to see the bird. Once he heard its haunting sound and gazed at its ghostly appearance, he was smitten. Now 16, and the island’s youngest natural history guide, Oscar is delighted his bird won the title.”It has the most beautiful call of all New Zealand’s birds and it’s the loudest in the forest. It sings with a deep five note call that makes the tui sound like an elaborate train wreck.” Oscar expansively declared.


In 1999, there were only 660 kokako living but today, after a rigorous effort to control pests such as stoats, rats and possums, their population is currently estimated at 3000 individuals. The treasured kokako, or New Zealand crow, has short wings making it an awkward flier. It tends to flutter for short distances, preferring to hop from branch to branch with its strong legs. Most kokako are found in the North Island but a South Island cousin was recently discovered. The unique status of the kokako is celebrated with its image appearing on the New Zealand 50 dollar note.

Listen to the kokako’s unique sound:


New Zealand has been home to the oddest birds on the planet from the kea, the world’s most intelligent alpine parrot, to the half blind kiwi. Since 1840, 15 of the 196 bird species that originally existed in and around the country, have disappeared. One of these is the giant moa, unique to New Zealand, that sadly no longer plods across the landscape. There were 9 species of moa with the largest reaching 3.6 metres (11.8ft) in height and 230 kg in weight.


The flightless moa could be likened to the flightless kiwi in appearance – just many times bigger. Because they were unable to fly, these huge birds were easy targets for Maori hunters who successfully killed the estimated 56,000 that once roamed the New Zealand countryside.

The drab, flightless kiwi is the country’s national emblem and even the nickname for a New Zealander. The kiwi is a shy bird so it is hard to ever see one apart from those captured and on display in ‘kiwi houses’. Their recently declining numbers have been checked with a rigorous protection campaign in place. Unlike the beautiful sounds other native birds make, the kiwi just manages a series of sharp shrieks. Have a listen:



Botanist Joseph Banks travelled with explorer Captain James Cook on his first expedition to New Zealand in 1769–70. This journal entry describes the dawn chorus Banks heard on 17 January 1770, while his ship, the Endeavour was anchored in the Marlborough Sounds: ‘This morn I was woken by the singing of the birds ashore from whence we are distant not a quarter of a mile. Their voices were certainly the most melodious wild music I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells but with the most tuneable silver sound imaginable.’ (Encyclopaedia of NZ)

This is what a dawn chorus sounds like in a New Zealand forest today:


New Zealand native forests are special places and the birdlife that flourishes there provides a beautiful chorus of unique sounds that are not heard anywhere else in the world. The bellbirds, tuis, fantails, along with numerous other species, fill the air with melodies that could be made by angels. It’s a complete opposite to the unpleasant squawks, screeches and yaaaks Australian birds make. Having said that, the natural environments of Australia and New Zealand are complete opposites too. Australia’s harsh, dry, brown, barren landscape couldn’t be more different from the lakes, rivers and deep greens of the forests and gently rolling hills that typify the New Zealand landscape. In other words, the bird song heard in the two countries seems to perfectly reflect the landscapes. New Zealand forests are places of great beauty. I’ve walked through a number of them and always enjoyed the sweet, unique aroma that fills the air as a result of decaying punga logs that lie on the forest floor. The environment is perfect for the birds that thrive on the food they find there.

bird2New Zealand Native Forest


Joseph Banks wasn’t the only man on the Endeavour to record his impressions of New Zealand native birds. When Captain Cook heard the magnificent call of the bellbird, he wrote: “It seemed to be like small bells most exquisitely tuned.”  The male bellbird has a greenish sheen while the female has a brownish tone. Both sexes have distinctive red eyes. Like other native birds, bellbirds have been attacked by rats, stoats and feral cats, but fortunately they have been able to adapt to the changes European settlers have made to the countryside and are still found in comfortable numbers across the entire country.

bird44Male Bellbird

You can see and hear the bellbird’s angelic voices here.


Early settlers called the little tui the ‘Parson Bird’ because the distinctive white tuft on its neck resembles a parson’s white collar. However, today it is only known by its Maori name which means ‘a honeyeater bird’.


The tui is often confused with the bellbird. In fact, I also confuse the two even though I have a number of tuis living in the park across from my home. I can’t tell who is doing the singing until I see the white tufts, then I know it’s a tui.

The tui won “Bird of the Year” in 2005.

Listen to the tui singing:


Of all the native birds New Zealand is blessed with, my favourite is the tiny little fantail. He doesn’t have the beautiful song of the bellbird, tui or kokako,  but his tail is a fabulous creation of nature. The little fantail is now found in parts of Asia but to me, this little masterpiece of nature symbolizes the New Zealand forest. The fantail flutters quickly from place to place flicking its tail as it goes. It seems to live on nervous energy. Even the short, sharp beeps it makes sound more like calls of alarm rather than just general communication.


To watch these little creatures going about their business around my suburban Auckland house always bring a smile to my face and lifts my spirit.

Watch this New Zealand fantail enjoying his day:


The kea is a unique alpine parrot and is only found in Fiordland. He frequents car parks and hotel balconies and anywhere else tourists congregate. This cheeky bird delights in pecking the rubber off windscreen wipers and running off with anything shiny. The kea is recognised as one of the most intelligent birds on the planet with the intelligence equal to a young child. Despite his vandalism, the kea’s antics make him a popular visitor for any tourist to the region.

The kea is a large bird with dull, green feathers but when in flight, brilliant red blue and green feathers highlight the underside of the wings. Like the kokako and kiwi, the kea is a protected species and it’s estimated there are only about 5,000 in the wild. Their curiosity helps them find food in the unforgiving rocky alpine habitat they have chosen to live in. They don’t eat meat but do enjoy insects and a remarkably wide variety of human food!

          kea53              Kea in Flight

It’s sad to know that too many keas are being killed by cars running over them in areas where they congregate around people. Mean spirited individuals even shoot them. Keas also die after falling off the roofs of vehicles that speed off while they try to remove rubber from the tops of door frames and around aerials.

There is one place where these wonderful birds find a safe haven among humans. The inhabitants of the small settlement of Arthurs Pass located in the middle of the Southern Alps, allow them to wander over tables, remove bottle tops, drink from cups and generally do the things keas like to do. These people have realized that the Southern Alps area was home to the kea long before humans arrived.

Check out this video to see how clever the endearing kea is:

Here is a short BBC clip of another very clever kea:


This little country is blessed with many wonderful birds so it is heartening to know more people are becoming aware of their importance and the special joy they bring. They have learned to respect and protect these precious creatures with various pest eradication campaigns. Conservation areas have also been put aside to ensure birds like the kokako will survive for future generations to enjoy. It’s comforting to know the “Bird of the Year” is in good hands.

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Don’t forget to check the archive page for earlier blogs.




  1. Very enjoyable thanks Ceidrik. I never knew what a kokako sounded like. Brilliant.

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