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Before humans settled in New Zealand, it would have been an extremely noisy place! Large tracts of lush native bush supported an incredible variety of bird life. As they evloved, wings became unnecessary for some birds, as they had no natural predators to fly away from. As a result, several of New Zealand's native birds became flightless, including the kakapo parrot, the kiwi, the takahe, and the world's largest bird, the (now extinct) moa.
As Maori and Europeans settled New Zealand, they hunted birds and brought predators including rats and stoats. This, and loss of habitat, led to the extinction of a number of birds including the moa and huia.
The kiwi and other native birds
New Zealand's national symbol is a nocturnal flightless bird with nostrils on the end of its large beak. It is now endangered, and difficult to see in the wild. However, there are a number of 'kiwi houses' at zoos and wildlife parks. While they may look cute, kiwi can be fierece and highly terriorial.
These are some other well-known New Zealand native birds:
- The playful kea is one of the most intelligent birds in the world and will happily attack a car in order to steal a windscreen wiper or other bits of rubber!
- The loveable weka is a flightless bird with a penchant for shiny objects.
- The takahe has a beautiful indigo plumage and bright red beak.
- The tui is famed for its beautiful singing and white 'parson's collar'.
- The morepork owl is so named because of the sound of its call, often heard at night.
The ancient tuatara
The tuatara is a unique relic of the past - the only beak-headed reptile left in the world. Every species of this reptile family, except the tuatara, died out around 65 million years ago. Tuatara can live for over 100 years, and are only found on protected offshore islands. Tuatara are not a threat to humans.
New Zealand has abundant and diverse marine life, and whale watching and swimming with dolphins are two of New Zealand's most highly recommended tourist experiences. The small Hector's dolphin is the world's rarest dolphin and only found in New Zealand waters. Seals, penguins and a whole host of fish and shellfish also thrive in New Zealand's fertile marine environment.