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Four crested
Little blue

Rediscovered birds

The remarkable return of five extinct species

Critically endangered birds

Nine Red List, 26 nationally critical


Takahe  Kiwi
Kakapo  Penguin
Moa  Wren

birds list

273 oceanic,
coastal and
terrestrial birds


Auckland Is.
Campbell Is.
Brown teal
Blue duck

Native ducks

Blue duck
Grey duck
Paradise shelduck
Shoveler, Scaup

Parrots & Parakeets

5 parakeets
Birds of prey

Birds of prey

Falcon, Harrier
Haast's eagle
Laughing owl




Greater & Lesser
short-tailed bats,

Long-tailed bat

Gigantism in insects


Living fossils

Leiopelma frogs
Land snails


Kiwi population shrinking
"Fewer than 15 North Island brown kiwi are thought to be surviving in western Bay of Plenty, sparking fresh fears for the survival ... will be extinct there within four years unless action is taken"
New Zealand Herald
20 December 2004

New Zealand's flight path to disaster
"Few people are aware that, as the authors claim, New Zealand has a better record of the birds that lived over the past 100,000 years than any other area of the world. Our avifauna is diverse, unique, special, intriguing - and, to a large extent, extinct"
New Zealand Herald
14 January 2003

UN alert on threat to birds
"The UN document, the bi-annual Environment Programme (UNEP) GEO-3 report, estimates a quarter of the world's mammal species and 12 per cent of birds - including 15 per cent of New Zealand species - face extinction over the
next 30 years ..."
New Zealand Herald
23 May 2002

Kiwi an Aussie who overstayed
"The kiwi, New Zealand's national bird and sports symbol, probably originated in Australia, says a New Zealand scientist. Molecular evolutionist Dr Alan Cooper led an Oxford University team that found the kiwi developed in Australia and migrated to NZ about 70 million years ago along the Norfolk Ridge, or Lord Howe Rise, that linked the two countries ..."
New Zealand Herald
8 February 2001

The value of conservation is better understood by an appreciation of lost biodiversity.  New Zealand's greatest biological loss is 42 percent of its' terrestrial birds since human settlement 700 years ago. The 57 extinct birds evolved in an isolated land, and without mammal predators, developed various levels of flightlessness, ground feeding and nesting habits, and fearlessness over millions of years.

The first 38 extinctions during human settlement were influenced by Maori hunting for food, indiscriminate forest burning, and introduction of the Polynesian rat and dogs. Since mid-1800 European arrival there have been another 19 losses caused by logging, forest clearing for pasture, and introduction of a hoard of predatory animals including bird enemies numbers one and two, stoats and rats. The prominent extinction groups are all 14 moas, 11 rails, 6 wrens and both eagles.  Image above: Skull of Haast's eagle

Huia  Heteralocha acutirostris

The huia was probably the greatest loss to New Zealand's unique avifauna. It became extinct in 1907 after extensive hunting for collections and its tail feathers, which were in great demand due to an international fashion of wearing them in hats. The male and female were so sexually dimorphic with different straight and curved beak forms, they were at first thought to be separate species.
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Huia, John Gerrard Kuelemans

Wren  Xenicus, Traversia & Pachyplichas sp

Four species of New Zealand wren including three bush wren subspecies, are extinct.  Pachyplichas yaldwyni and P. jagmi are only identified from fossils (1988). In 1894 a lighthouse keepers cat ate the last Stephens Island wren, the world's smallest and only flightless songbird. The North Is. bush wren was last seen in 1955, and the South Is. subspecies in 1972. Stead's bush wren was wiped out by rats on three islands off Stewart Island in 1964.  See more

Stephen's Island wren

North Island takahe  Porphyrio hochstetteri

The takahe is the largest living member of the rail family.  Takahe were hunted until they were rarely found in the 19th century. None were seen after 1900 and two species were declared extinct, but amazingly, 200 pairs of the South Island species Porphyrio mantelli (right) were found in a remote region of Fiordland in 1948. The North Island takahe is extinct, but about 220 of P. mantelli continue their dramatic brink of extinction existence.  See more
Hear the call of takahe [needs RealPlayer to run] INSTALL REALPLAYER


Moa  Anomalopteryx, Dinornis, Emeus, Euryapteryx, Megalapteryx and Pachyornis sp

Second only in weight to the extinct elephant bird of Madagascar, the largest moa was the tallest bird on earth, with the top of its' back 6 feet above the ground.  Moa were dominant herbivores in an environment dominated by birds. Its only predator was Haast's eagle. Fourteen species of moa were hunted to extinction over a period of 100 years during the 13th and 14th centuries, immediately after the first human settlement of New Zealand. It was the fastest known extermination in the world of a whole fauna of large animals.  Moa were in decline when human hunting started, with only 159,000 birds - a severe reduction from 3 to 12 million thousands of years before the arrival of humans.  See more


Haast's Eagle (Harpagornis)
Harpagornis moorei

Haast's eagle was the world's largest eagle with a wingspan of 3m. It was the only animal predator of moa, diving on them at a speed of 80 kph and crushing and piercing the moa's neck with talons the size of tiger's claws.  Eagle bones were found in Maori middens, and it died out with extinction of moa.

Haast eagle

South Island kokako
Callaeas cinerea cinerea

In the early 1900s, South Island kokako (right, top) were abundant on the main island and Stewart Island. It has not been seen since the late 1960s and is considered extinct. A search in 2000 in eight areas from the Nelson Lakes to Stewart Island was unsuccessful, but believers think it is out there in some secluded place.  The southern subspecies looks almost identical to the North Island kokako (right, bottom), except that it has yellow or orange wattles instead of blue.
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North Island piopio Turnagra tanagra
South Island piopio Turnagra capensis

Two species of piopio, also known as the New Zealand thrush, were very tame, endemic, arboreal island forest omnivores.  The South Is. piopio was last seen at Lake Hauroko and Caswell Sound in 1947, and was declared extinct in 1963. The last North Is. species was observed in 1949 at Te Aurora, Wanganui. Sir Walter Buller described piopio as unquestionably New Zealand's best songbird, a title bestowed on kokako today.
View larger image


New Zealand pelican
Pelecanus novaezelandiae

Pelican bones indicate it weighed 12kg, which is close to today's heaviest flying bird, the trumpeter swan Cygnus cygnus. It was much larger than its existing Australian relative. Subfossils from Lake Poukawa are of a bird that lived 3,500 to 4,500 years ago. Bones found at Karikari, Northland; Motutapu Island, Auckland; Lake Waikaremoana, Rotorua; and Lake Grassmere, Marlborough show that pelican probably lived after humans arrived.

New Zealand pelican

Whekau (Laughing owl)
Sceloglaux albifacies

The endemic laughing owl was found throughout the country in the mid-1800s before it went into decline, and was declared extinct in 1914 after the last specimen was found in Canterbury.  Various alleged sightings, the most recent in the 1940s near Opotiki have not been verified. Whekau had similar red-brown coloring to the morepork which is New Zealand's only remaining owl, but had a white face and were larger.
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Chatham rail  Gallirallus modestus
Gallirallus dieffenbachii

About 26 specimens of the "modest" rail remain in museums, collected from its discovery in 1871 to extinction in 1900. G. modestus and G. dieffenbachii, co-existed on at least three islands in the Chatham group, descending from G. philippensis which had dispersed throughout the Pacific. The two diverged from their volant ancestor, becoming flightless but with G. dieffenbachii growing larger, and G. modestus smaller to the size of a blackbird, with a long specialised feeding bill. View larger image

Chatham Island fernbird
Bowdleria rufescens

Little was learned about the Chatham Island fernbird which was the size of a house sparrow. The first bird discovered in 1868 was killed by a stone thrower. It was only on Pitt and Mangere Islands in the Chatham group. The last specimen was shot for Lord Walter Rothchild's collection in about 1900. B. rufescens was related to the five weak flying B. punctata subspecies on both mainland islands, Stewart and Codfish Islands, and subantarctic Snares Island.
View larger image

New Zealand quail
Coturnix novaezelandiae

The native quail became extinct in about 1875, after a very rapid decline resulting from extensive shooting for sport and food by European settlers, and the burning of their lowland tussock habitat. In the 1840s, hunters claimed to have killed 20 to 40 birds in one day. Quail were very abundant in open country throughout New Zealand, in particular the grassy Murimotu Plains in the Taupo area, and the downs of the South Island.

Auckland Island merganser
Mergus australis

Merganser were first seen by explorer Jules d'Urville during his 1840 subantarctic voyage.  Bones have been identified from South Island and Stewart Island coastal dunes and Maori middens.  After extinction on the mainland, it survived on the bleak but beautiful Auckland Islands.  The population declined after pigs were introduced to the islands in 1807, and cats in 1820. Since 1840, 26 were killed for collections before the last known pair were shot in 1902 by the Earl of Ranfurly, Governor of New Zealand.  See more

Auckland Island merganser

Kairuku penguin
Kairuku grebneffi, Kairuku waitaki

In 2011, paleontologists reconstructed from fossilised bones, the skeleton of an extinct giant Kairuku penguin. The prehistoric penguins from the Eocene-Oligocene 24 million years ago are only known from New Zealand, and are one of the largest known penguin species. They stood 1.3 metres tall, and weighed at least 60 kilograms. Kairuku were 30cm taller, and 50 percent heavier than the Emperor penguin Aptenodytes forsteri of Antarctica, the largest living penguin species.
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Kairuku penguin

Other recent extinctions since mid-19th century European settlement

Dieffenbach's rail
Gallirallus dieffenbachii

Stewart Island snipe
Coenocorypha aucklandica iredalei

Little Barrier snipe
Coenocorypha aucklandica barrierensis

Chatham Island bellbird
Anthornis melanocephala

New Zealand little bittern
Ixobrychus novaezelandiae

Additional 20 extinctions since 14th century Maori settlement

North Island adzebill
Aptornis otidfornis

South Island adzebill
Aptornis defosser

Eyles' harrier
Circus eylesi

Chatham Island sea-eagle
Haliaeetus australis

Giant Chatham Island rail
Diaphorapteryx hawkinsi

Hodgen's rail
Gallinula hodgeni

Capellirallus karamu

New Zealand coot
Fulica chathamensis

Giant Chatham Island snipe
Coenocorypha chathamica

Hakawai (New Zealand snipe)
Coenocorypha aucklandica

New Zealand owlet-nightjar
Aegotheles novaezealandiae

New Zealand crow
Palaeocorax moriorum

De Lautour's duck
Biziura delautouri

Chatham Island duck
Pachyanas chathamica

Scarlett's duck
Malacorhynchus scarletti

Finsch's duck
Chenonetta finschi

Blue-billed duck
Oxyura australis

North Island goose
Cnemiornis gracilis

South Island goose
Cnemiornis calcitrans

New Zealand swan
Cygnus sumnerensis

Additional 16 extinctions before human settlement

Albatross (unnamed)
Manu antiquus

Narrow flippered penguin
Palaeeudyptes antarcticus

Marples' penguin
Palaeeudyptes marplesi

New Zealand giant penguin
Pachydyptes ponderosus

Wide-flippered penguin
Platydyptes novaezealandiae

Amies' penguin
Platydyptes amiesi

Lowe's penguin
Archaeospheniscus lowei

Lopdell's penguin
Archaeospheniscus lopdelli

Duntroon penguin
Duntroonornis parvus

Oliver's penguin
Korora oliveri

Harris' penguin
Marplesornis novaezealandiae

Moisley's penguin
Tereingaornis moisleyi

Ridgen's penguin
Aptenodytes ridgeni

Tyree's penguin
Pygoscelis tyreei

Miocene false-toothed pelican
Pelagornis miocaenus

Stirton's false-toothed pelican
Pseudodontornis stirtoni

Illustration Credit
Center 7th from top: Piopio
Center 9th from top: Laughing owl
Center 10th from top: Chatham rail
Center 11th from top:
Chatham Island fernbird
Center bottom:
Auckland Island merganser
Left bottom: Stephens Island wren
Permission of Peter Schouten

Center top: John Gerrard Keulemans 1842-1912, Huia (male and female)
Heteralocha acutirostris 1888
Center 4th from top:
Frederick William Frohawk 1861-1942, Dinornis ingens 1906.
Center 6th from top:
John Gerrard Keulemans 1842-1912, Blue-wattled crow Glaucopis wilsoni, Orange-wattled crow Glaucopis cinerea 1888
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand must be obtained before any re-use of these images.

Photo Credit
Center 3rd from top and left top: Takahe
Right top: Kakapo
Left 3rd from top: Kokako
Left 4th from top: Tusked weta
Left 5th from top: Archey's frog
Crown Copyright © Department of Conservation
Left 6th from top: Giant kauri, Alexander Turnbull Library


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