dawn chorus

When I poked my head out the door at 5:30 this morning to say goodbye to hubby the eastern sky was light blue and the dawn chorus was in full force. I love the dawn chorus! If you’re not a morning person you might not even know what I mean – when the birds wake up they sing, so every dawn greets you with birdsong.

And that reminded me of something I wanted to talk to you about – birds!

New Zealand is an avian nation… before the first Polynesian settlers landed with their pigs and dogs and stowaway rats there were no land mammals in New Zealand at all except for 2 tiny types of bats (which for all intents and purposes we can consider avian in this discussion.) NZ has (or had) birds of every feather – giant moas, tiny wrens, burrowing kiwis, burrowing climbing fat flightless parrots called kakapo, a giant eagle, running wekas, naughty keas, funny little penguins… Early explorers and settlers in NZ reported that the dawn chorus was deafening… at first… until the animals they brought with them did their damage… Now we are known as a world leader in bringing birds back from the brink of extinction – the stories of the Chatham Island Robin (down to 5 birds, one fertile female, now numbering about 250) and the kakapo (down to 50 birds in 1995, now up to 126) are notable.

So here’s the list of birds we saw on our recent trip:

  • tui (also known as Parson bird for it’s white collar feathers, a bird with the most marvelous song, gurgling, chortling – here’s a video with better visuals than I got – this bird shows off a wide range of tui sounds)
  • blackbird
  • wood pigeon (we think we heard one fly over – they sound very heavy)
  • sparrow
  • fantail
  • wax-eye (also known as white eye or silver eye – guess why?!)
  • pukeko (my favorite – check out this adorable ad with very clever pukeko actors)
  • pied shag (perhaps properly called a pied cormorant)
  • black swan (not at all improbable, despite what the book of the same name says)
  • geese (not the Lake Pupuke killer geese that will assault you for food, but white geese I mistook for lambs, looking down on a paddock from way up high)
  • (red-billed) seagull
  • black backed gull
  • some kind of gull
  • oystercatcher (black and white with bright orange-red legs!)
  • pigeons, of the kind found in every city
  • dove (spotted? the same kind that wakes me up in Honolulu)
  • some kind of hawk or falcon
  • rainbow lorikeet (a dozen kept as pets by an artist we visited)
  • kingfisher (my aunt said she saw a kookaburra recently – they’re Australian and fairly easy to mistake for a kingfisher at first glance)
  • starling
  • myna
  • magenpie (no I lie, I don’t think I saw one – I just wanted to say what my family always calls magpies, ever since we watched Brian Blessed in “My Family and Other Animals” on TV in 1987)
  • terns
  • and a mystery bird I heard on Rangitoto – maybe a bellbird?? it sounded like a clear bell sound…

I’m guessing you noticed some you know, some you don’t, some that are everywhere, some that are special… and quite a few with really foolishly obvious names (guess what color the blackbird is? guess what shape the tail of the fantail is?!)

And you’ll probably notice that that great kiwi bird, the kiwi, isn’t on the list. We didn’t go to a zoo, so we didn’t see a kiwi. I haven’t been to see a kiwi in ages – you have to squint and peer through the dark because they’re nocturnal and shy and not exactly eye catching. One time many years ago I camped out in the Uraweras – that’s the only time in my life I’ve had a chance of hearing a kiwi in the wild – but I didn’t. There are special pest-free places for kiwis (and other endangered birds) to live and I am happy to stay away from them to protect the birds from stowaways.

btw I used this list of New Zealand birds on wikipedia to help me remember – there are links so you can see what the birds look like if you want to investigate further.


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