As I mentioned in passing last week, I’ve just passed nine years since I moved to the Land of the Long White Cloud, Aotearoa, New Zealand. My reasons for doing so were actually bird related, namely a PhD in bird evolution, the less said about the better. But it’s a good excuse to look back, for reasons I’ll elaborate on later.

New Zealand is simultaneously birdy and not birdy. Biodiversity was never high to start with, and waves of extinction took their toll here. As I go about any part of my life here were I’m not looking for birds I’ll never see much more than the same twenty or so birds, a decent number of which are introduced species. Every LBJ I’ll see is either a House Sparrow or a Dunnock. Lost migrants were I inclined to look for them, vanishingly rare. I’m never going to be anything other than last on the Beat Year Lists unless I leave the country.

penguin-aVagrants are rare but this miserable Emperor Penguin did wash up once.

But… but. What there is to see here, if I put in that effort, is worth seeing. Any birder seeking every bird family on Earth would have to come here, as no less than six bird families are endemic – the kiwis, New Zealand parrots, New Zealand wrens, Stichbird, wattlebirds and mohouas (more families formerly found here are sadly now lost).

aaa kea

Kea are odd mountain parrots

aaa stichbirdStitchbirds are an endemic family.

And while New Zealand has lost many species, it has also been a world leader in working out how to save those that remain. My first post here was on one such novel project, at attempt to bring threatened species back to the mainland, and capital city. Similar projects can now be found near many big cities and also in smaller rural towns.


Shore Plovers are a conservation success.

wekaFlightless rails like this Weka are rare elsewhere in the world.

And as well as the work on land, New Zealand is home to some of the greatest pelagic birding in the world, as you might expect from the world’s petrel biodiversity hot-spot.

nz storm petrel

The New Zealand Storm-petrel was formerly thought extinct

The magnificent Northern Royal Albatross


Squabbling Antipodean Albatrosses and Cape Petrels

bullers albatross

Buller’s Albatrosses
Australasian gannets

Australasian Gannets

And even when there aren’t birds, well, the scenery alone is worth a look!


Red Crater, Mt Tongariro


Mt Ruhapehu


The Kaikoura Ranges

Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers

tane mahuta

Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Northland Kauri forests

aaa arthurs pass

Arthur’s Pass

Of course, pretty birds and scenery isn’t enough to keep you in a country after you burn out of a Phd. It’s also a great place to live. Which is why on Monday I went to the auditorium of Te Papa National Museum and got myself one of these.


I’m a Kiwi now!

Here’s to nine more years. After all, there are still a lot of birds and places to see!

Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.