We all know that our neighbours in Australia have loads of unique (and quite a few deadly) native animals, but New Zealand also has some fascinating creatures. Most famously we're known for our flightless birds which evolved after years of not having any predators.

The Kiwi bird is the most famous of New Zealands flightless birds - it even had a fruit and the people of New Zealand named after them. But apart from flightless birds there are a few other native New Zealand animals & birds that you won't find anywhere else in the world (apart from zoo's of course).

New Zealand Animals & Birds

Unique & Native New Zealand Widlife

New Zealand Flightless Birds

Although New Zealand is famous for having flightless birds, today just 16 flightless species remain. A further 15 flightless birds are known to be extinct.

Of the 16 existing flightless New Zealand birds, one is a parrot, two are rails, five are ratites (all Kiwi's), two teals and six penguins.

1. Kiwi

The Kiwi, the most famous of all New Zealand birds and the nickname for New Zealanders. There are several species of Kiwi; the Southern Brown Kiwi, North Island Brown Kiwi, Okarito Kiwi, Little Spotted Kiwi and the Great Spotted Kiwi. Some are rarer than others but all of them are threatened especially from introduced predators like cats. They're incredibly difficult to spot in the wild not least because they're nocturnal. It's best to go to a conservation centre or zoo to see a real life Kiwi, which are a bit larger than you might think. 

Kiwi birds are ratites, as are ostriches, cassowaries and emus. Kiwi's are the only nocturnal ratite.

Kiwi Bird

By Allie_Caulfield [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

2. Takahe

The South Island Takahe is a blue and green bird with a large red beak and pink legs. The Takahe can be found in alpine areas. It's been introduced to Tiritiri Matangi Island near Auckland and Kapiti Island near Wellington, amongst others, which are conservation sites with no predators present.



3. Kakapo

The Kakapo is an odd looking bird, in my opinion, but pretty cool. It's the worlds only flightless parrot, the heaviest parrot and nocturnal. Sadly there are only 148 Kakapo left in New Zealand so they're considered as critically endangered. The Department of Conservation (DOC) has established a Kakapo Recovery programme to help preserve the species and Kakapo have been successfully transferred to several predator free islands.

Kakapo have been known to confuse cameramen with potential mating partners.

4. Penguins

There are 6 penguin species that are commonly seen around New Zealand but 3 that breed on the mainland.

  • The yellow-eyed penguin - hoiho
  • The Fiordland crested penguin - tawaki
  • And the little penguin - kororā
Yellow-Eyed Penguin (hoiho) Family - Dunedin

By Steve from Bangkok, Thailand - Yellow Eyed PenguinUploaded by Snowmanradio, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

5. Moa

The Moa is sadly extinct, it was a ridiculously large flightless bird. The largest of the 9 known species of Moa could reach up to 12 feet high with their neck stretched!

Size comparison between 4 species of moa bird and a human. 1. Dinornis novaezelandiae (3 meters tall). 2. Emeus crassus (1.8 meters tall). 3. Anomalopteryx didiformis (1.3 meters tall). 4. Dinornis robustus (3.6 meters tall).

By Conty [CC BY 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

(Also Weka / Teal - auckland island teal / campbell island teal)

Other New Zealand Birds

(flying species)

6. Kea

The Kea is the worlds only alpine parrot and it's only found in New Zealand. It's a beautiful green colour with flashes of orange in it's wings. Kea are pretty intelligent birds that are very curious. They're often seen around the South Island ski areas examining backpacks, clothes, ski equipment and windscreen wipers! They've been called 'the clown of the mountains' and 'mountain monkeys', due to their well known cheekiness.


Photo via Good Free Photos

7. Pukeko

Pukeko can be found throughout New Zealand and are easily recognised with their bright violet head, breast and throat and red bill and eyes. It's wings and back are black and it's legs and feet are orange.

Pukeko - Swamp Hen

By Bernard Spragg. NZ from Christchurch, New Zealand (The Pukeko.(Swamp Hen)) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

8. Morepork

Named after the sound it makes the Morepork is a small brown owl found in New Zealand (and Tasmania). They're fairly common throughout New Zealand so you'll probably hear it's distinctive call of 'more-pork" at night.


By Brian Ralphs from Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, UK (DSC_7931Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

9. Tui

Tui - a popular beer! Ok, apart from being the name of a New Zealand beer, a tui is a bird found all around in New Zealand. It looks black from a distance but if you're lucky enough to see one up close or in good lighting then you'll see they're actually a beautiful mix of blue, green and bronze. What makes the tui so distinctive though is the tuft of white feathers on it's throat.

It's hard to describe what a tui sounds like as they make quite a few different noises.

(Other New Zealand birds include: Bellbird, Wood Pigeon, New Zealand Falcon, New Zealand fantail or piwakawaka, Tomtit, New Zealand Robins)

New Zealand Marine Life

New Zealand is an excellent country to visit if you're wanting to see whales, dolphins and seals. There are a few locations which are well known for their whale and dolphin spotting tours. And it's always a much better experience to see them in the wild rather than captive.

10. Hectors Dolphins

There are 2 subspecies of Hector's dolphins, the Maui dolphin and the hectori. The Maui dolphin is critically endangered with only 55 believed to still be alive. They're normally found off the northwest coast of the North Island. Not only are they the rarest dolphin in the world, they're also the smallest measuring less than 1.5 metres. The hectori is found around the South Island.

Hectors Dolphin

CC BY 2.5, Link

11. New Zealand Fur Seal

The body of this pointy nosed seal is covered with two layers of fur. Their coat is dark on the back, and lighter underneath. When they're wet, New Zealand fur seals can look black. They're normally found on rocky shorelines and have been seen as far north as The Coromandel.

New Zealand Fur Seal (Kekeno)

Bernard Spragg. NZ from Christchurch, New Zealand [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

12. New Zealand Sea Lion

The New Zealand Sea Lion is one of the rarest sea lions in the world and it can only be found in the wild in New Zealand. They're more likely to be seen near Auckland. Sea lions differ from Fur Seals in that they hang around on sandy beaches rather than rocky shorelines and they're slightly bigger with a less pointy noise.

New Zealand Sea Lion


New Zealand Lizards & Reptiles & More

13. Tuatara

Looks like a lizard but is actually a reptile. The Tuatara is extremely rare and is often referred to as a 'living fossil'. "They are the last survivors of an order of reptiles that thrived in the age of the dinosaurs." - source

Tuatara are the largest reptile in New Zealand with males measuring up to half a metre. The male tuatara also has spines down it's back which he can fan out when attempting to attract females. Tuatara are more likely to survive on islands due to the smaller number of predators although they have been introduced to Zealandia in Wellington where they successfully bred.

Tuatara - living fossil, endemic New Zealand animal

Michael Hamilton Digitaltrails [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

14. Weta

You may have heard of Weta before, but possibly only because of Weta Cave in Wellington where many LOTR / The Hobbit props were made.

Wētā are large insects, some of the species are the largest and heaviest insects in the world. Species of Weta include the Giant Weta, Tree Weta, Cave Weta, Ground Weta and Tusked Weta. 16 of the 70 species are at risk and are endangered due to introduced predators such as cats, rats and hedgehogs. So if you see one, don't freak out and kill it, take a photo instead! They're very unlikely to cause you any harm whatsoever.

Cook Strait Giant Weta

Photo by Sid Mosdell - license

15. Powelliphanta

Another endemic New Zealand species, this time a snail. But not any kind of snail this one's carnivorous, and like many snails they're also hermaphrodites (having both male and female sex organs). The largest of the species can have a shell up to 9cm across and weigh up to 90g. They can actually live for up to 20 years!

Powelliphanta - and endangered NZ snail

New Zealand Department of Conservation [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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