Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Matters Ornithological...

Now that spring is here we have really noted the abundance of native bird life around the park. I thought I would share some of the birds that we hear and see on a daily basis...

Small Birds


(Ubiquitous the world over)


Greenfinches, as with the other forms of finch, were brought to NZ in the 1860s with settlers. The male birds have a strong green colour to them, whereas female birds can be harder to discern from other finches. The dine on fruit and nectar (so although pretty now, they may be a nuisance over summer when the fruit comes out in the orchard).


Goldfinches are commonly kept and bred in captivity around the world because of their distinctive appearance and pleasant song. The Goldfinch males are sometimes crossed with Canary females with the intention to produce male mules with beautiful singing voices, that often capture the best singing attributes of both breeds...

Above: A Goldfinch Singing.

Because of the thistle seeds it eats, in Christian symbolism the Goldfinch is associated with the Passion and Christ's Crown of Thorns. The Goldfinch, appearing in pictures of the Madonna and the Christ Child, represents the foreknowledge Jesus and Mary had of the Crucifixion.

The Fantail

Known for its friendly 'cheet cheet' call and energetic flying antics, the aptly named fantail is one of the most common and widely distributed native birds on the New Zealand mainland. We have a particularly friendly one who flits about from tree to tree, following us around the garden for hours at a time.

It is easily recognized by its long tail which opens to a fan. It has a small head and bill and has two colour forms, pied and melanistic or black. The pied birds are grey-brown with white and black bands.


We have plenty of these little fellows. They are best seen in the late afternoon, sweeping down over the water of the lake collecting small insects.

and we have several mud nests attached to the eaves of the barn. This is OK - as the swallows tend to stay out of the barn. The finches, however, continue to make nests inside and to dirty all the tack and saddles hanging up.

Waxeyes (Silvereyes)

These delightful birds are usually very plump things that look like flying blobs. They love to feed on all the fruit and berries, and are likely to get to our crops before they are ripe. We shall definitely have to invest in a net to go over the entire orchard. They also love eating suet and seed from the bird feeders.


A fairly common bird through out most of the country.


Starlings are also very common, and are terrible pests when it comes to building their nests where they are not wanted.

Birds of Renown

The Tui

Tūī are common throughout New Zealand in forests, towns and on off-shore islands. They are adaptable and are found not only in native forests, bush reserves and bush remnants but also in suburban areas, particularly in winter if there is a flowering gum about.

Above: An excellent painting of a Tui by the Artist Joan Marshall

Tui can often be heard singing their beautiful melodies long before they are spotted. If you are fortunate to glimpse one you will recognise them by their distinctive white tuft under their throat, which contrasts dramatically with the metallic blue-green sheen to their underlying black colour.

The Harrier Hawk

The Swamp Harrier is largely dark brown, becoming lighter with age, and has a distinct white rump. It hunts by flying slowly, low to the ground, on upswept wings. The body length is 50 to 60 cm (20-24 in), and the wingspan is 120 to 145 cm. It hunts small rodents, sometimes smaller birds, reptiles such as skink and frog; and is often seen on the roadside eating carrion. There are quite a few that circle overhead at Willowbrook. I am happy for them to keep down the field mice.

The NZ Falcon

Capable of flying at speeds over 100 km/h and catching prey larger than itself, the New Zealand falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae) is one of New Zealand's most spectacular birds. The falcon is found on both the North and South Islands and several offshore islands, including Stewart Island and the subantarctic Auckland Islands. It is an endangered birds, but there are ongoing breeding programs, and there are also programs to use them in viticulture to keep down the numbers of small birds who detroy the grape crops.

I am not sure whether I have seen a Falcon at Willowbrook - the quite common Harrier Hawk and the extremely rare NZ Falcon are at first easily confused, but there are several distinguishing features: The harrier Hawk is larger than both the male and female falcons, in fact almost twice the size of a female falcon; and when flying the Harrier Hawks tend to flap their wings, then glide in - the falcon is much faster and has constant, rapidly beating wings.

Falconry was extremely popular in the middle ages, but dates back to centuries BC. It became less important with the advent of firearms, but remains a sport the world over. There are a range of birds of prey that are used in what is loosely referred to a falconry, although technically, a falconer flies a falcon and an austringer flies an hawk.

Above: Falconers

Below: Austringers
The Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust, located about an hour's drive from Willowbrook, is a venture set up to care for orphaned and injured birds of prey. They also use falconry training to rehabilitate them before releasing them into the wild.

For more information on the NZ Falcon, including more differences between the NZ Falcon and Harrier Hawk, visit the Marlborough Falcon Conservation Trust

Game Birds

Californian Quail

We have several of these odd birds around the place. When One comes across them they run away, and if persued, they then take off like a helicopter - upwards then off.


We have at least 2 couples of pheasant. They hide in the hedgerows waiting to flap out in front of the horses and startle them...

Birds of Ill-Repute

The Rosella

This pretty transtasman import sits in the gum trees, making a racket, and then pillages the orchard. They usually become ferral after escaping from cages when kept as pets. Now they are breeding like mad.

The Magpie

These birds always remind me of the Hitchcock movie. They are also known as great hoarders of shiny things!

The Mynah

Well disliked in NZ as a bully (taking over other nests like a cuckoo and pecking the other birds eggs to pieces). A tuly vulgar bird!

Nocturnal Birds

The Morepork or Ruru

The morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae) is New Zealand's only surviving native owl.

Often heard in the forest at dusk and throughout the night, the morepork is known for its haunting, melancholic call. Its Maori name, ruru, reflects this call. We can hear one most nights in the trees around the house.

The much larger laughing owl became extinct in the 20th century. The German or little owl is a smaller species often found on open and lightly wooded farmland. It was introduced to New Zealand between 1906 and 1910 to try to control smaller introduced birds.

This is why they are known as Moreporks...

Water Birds

Pied Stilts

There are a few small groups of these which flock around the field at twilight, and around the lake.


This bird is an icon in NZ. It is cheeky, inquisitive, and fierce when it is nesting. We have a couple nesting in the field at Willowbrook. Unfortunately, none of the eggs seemed to have hatched this year.

Paradise Ducks

(One couple who regularly fly in and out, but never stay).

Mallard Ducks

(Several couples which stay with the runner ducks around the lake)


A beautiful bird, often seen out just before it rains. There are one or two about the lake.

Grey Heron

We are lucky enough to have a pair nesting high in the trees behind the lake. They fly over at quite a height.

There are also some birds which we have not identified yet. They fly high up into the air, then barrel-roll all the way down again, and whilst doing so they make a very loud noise. Any ideas? (they are not roller pigeons).


  1. sweet little birdie pictures! what a pretty blog:)

  2. A fabulous post! I had a nasty run-in with a plover in Darwin a couple of weeks ago. He was guarding a nest of new chicks & wanted everyone nearby to take a very wide berth. I came a little too close & he came after me in flash. I haven't ran that fast in ages!!!
    Millie x


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