Tawa Native Bush Reserve Birds

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We are seeing encouraging signs of a growing and diverse bird population in the Tawa area.

Like all good Wellingtonians, we just love our native birds. It is an honour and delight to encounter them on our local bush walks and see them visit our backyards or fly overhead (or buzz past you – talking to you Kereru and Tui!) . It really gives us our sense of place and is part of our unique Wellington ecosystem as we share the environment with this incredible birdlife.

Our reserves provide an ideal habitat for our feathered friends. The abundant food supply available encourages them to stay and thrive here.

One of the key reasons we enjoy these native birds in Tawa is because of the establishment of Zealandia.

Some Present-Day Observations of Bird Populations in Tawa 

(Source: Tawa the Tree the community and its reserves by Gilbert Roper)

Sanctuaries for breeding

Since 2000, Zealandia has provided a protected location of 230ha for the safe breeding of native bird species within a predator proof fence. Also, other sanctuaries such as the Porirua Scenic Reserves and Colonial Knob, as well as pest free offshore islands such as Mana Island and Kapiti Island provide havens for birds to breed and then spread beyond their existing habitats.

Pest control

Regular pest control in the bush reserves of Tawa has also reduced the numbers of stoats, weasels, rats and possums and provided more food for birds. Consequently, the recordings of more native bird sightings in adjacent suburbs are regularly publicised.

Local personal sightings

Many residents in the Tawa community today have sighted an increased population of tui in the Main Road and beyond, while kākā have been seen overhead on the SH1 off-ramp into Tawa. In 2015, a kākā nesting box was positioned in a strategic location in a bush reserve, but it is yet to be utilised. However, in August 2017, two kākā were heard and sighted by residents in Kiwi Crescent. Verbal indications from members of the community have identified the red-crowned parakeet (kākāriki), bellbird (korimako), New Zealand falcon (kāraerea) and frequent kererū (native wood pigeon) in Tawa reserves, while the shining cuckoo (pipiwharauroa) and morepork (ruru) have also been regularly heard and sighted.

Silvereye (tauhau), grey warbler (riroriro) and fantail (pīwakawaka), are common in local gardens and bush reserves. Paradise shellduck (putangitangi) occasionally nest in trees in Colonial Knob Scenic Reserve and are sighted on Tawa sports grounds. The whitehead (popokatea) is seen and heard in the Porirua Scenic Reserve.

Native birds you might see


Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae

Tūī are seen all over the Tawa area and are boisterous, vocal and visible in our Tawa bush reserves.

They have distinctive white pois/tufts on their throats that bob about as they sing quite melodically (with two voiceboxes!). Tui are also quite good mimics. The fine filament like feathers on the back of their necks are a beautiful feature and often captured in artwork.

They can be quite protective of a favourite tree when pickings are good and will quite determinedly fend off any encroachers.

Tūī love nectar, honeydew, fruit, foliage and the odd unlucky insect – all of which are abundant in a healthy stand of native bush. The more bush the more tūī.

♫ Song – Credit Department of Conservation bird songs

Also see http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/tui

woodpigeon up close, Kereru

Kererū – NZ Woodpigeon

Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae

The large somewhat silent guardian of the woods, Kererū are one majestic bird. They have beautiful jade and blue colouring with a good kiwi white singlet shaped bib on the front.

Often perching in one place silently for long stretches, they sometimes then jump scare you as they get the gumption to move on. Their telltale loud whooshing wing beat sounds when flying no doubt could be a study of the aerodynamic sound generation of the flapping wing! They do have a not often sounded soft deep pigeon like coo. They also seem to be quite happy perching on the powerlines around Tawa near stands of bush. They are very good at just observing.

Kererū can seem a bit clumsy given their size and the challenges of navigating the branches etc when you’re quite a chonky bird. They are also well known for bouts of fermented berry stupour.

They enjoy a diet of newly emerging leaves , buds, blossom and the berries/fruit in our native bush. Importantly Kereru have the ability to chow down on some of the larger berries, which no other bird can quite tackle. This helps spread the seed from those larger berried natives such as karaka, miro, tawa and taraire.

♫ Song – Credit Department of Conservation bird songs

Also see http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/new-zealand-pigeon

Fantail - piwakawaka

Pīwakawaka – Fantail

Rhipidura fuliginosa

Often seen catching small insects in mid-flight, bouncing about the bush or putting on a fantastic aerial acrobatic display. Fantails are nimble wee birds and able to pivot quickly like the skilled aerial acrobat they are, with the help of their exquisite fanned tail.

Pīwakawaka‘s happy cheeps can often be heard as they follow you around on your bush walk to see what tasty morsels you might disturb.

Their diet consists mainly of small insects, sometimes flushed out very effectively with a deployment of their magnificent tail (which makes up about half the length of this little fella)

♫ Song – Credit Department of Conservation bird songs

Also see http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/new-zealand-fantail

Image credit: Gil Roper

Ruru – Moorepork

Ninox novaeseelandiae

Our peaceful nighttime soundscape is often made all the more serene with the gentle sound of the Ruru echoing through the bush or across the town.

A nocturnal owl, with those classic big wide round eyes – super powered to capture every last bit of light and maximise their night vision. Ruru are partial to a nice mouse filled midnight snack, so they are actually really most helpful at pest control.

♫ Song – Credit Department of Conservation bird songs

Also see http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/morepork

bell bird juvenile - korimako

Korimako – Bellbird

Anthornis melanura

An olive-grey medium-sized bird, with the most beautiful tuneful song (sorry they beat you there tūī.) Korimako also sport dark red coloured eyes.

Bellbirds are another nectar feeder and their beak and tongue are particularly well crafted for this task. You will find Korimako enjoying the abundant nectar and honeydew in our Tawa native bush reserves along with spiders and insects.

♫ Song – Credit Department of Conservation bird songs

Also see http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/bellbird

Falcon Karearea

Kārearea – NZ Falcon

Falco novaeseelandiae

A large bird (but not as large as the harrier hawk) Kārearea have distinctive brown and cream markings along with splashes of yellow (also yellow feet).

Kārearea are quite a rare sight, but have been seen on rooftops and in the Tawa area near Lyndhurst Park particularly.

An excellent speed-flyer reaching speeds up to 100km per hour, wow. NZ falcon are are equipped with large talons and one very hooked beak – put to good use as they make short work of whatever live prey meal they have managed to zoom in on and snaffle up.

♫ Song – Credit Department of Conservation bird songs

Also see http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/new-zealand-falcon


Kākā – NZ Forest Parrot

Nestor meridionalis

A big bird, resplendent in metallic oilve brown and rusty red, with a striking splash of red under their wings. Kākā have that classic parrot body shape and beak, and the cheeky character to go with it. Their call is a long “ka-aa” as they soar above you or that loud screeching “kraak” when indicating ‘somethings up’ to their fellow Kākā .

A welcome addition to our Wellington scene. Kākā have been spotted more and more in Tawa over time (thanks Zealandia!) – much to the excitement of many a local.

Kākā seem to enjoy tearing bark off trees, but their motive is to get to the sap to feed, nosh down on that yummy insect or gather nesting material. They also eat seeds, berries and nectar. They can get a teensy bit destructive but luckily it is mainly exotic species and our native bush is largely spared.

♫ Song – Credit Department of Conservation bird songs

Also see http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/kaka

Paradise Shelduck

PūtangitangiParadise Shelduck

Tadorna variegata

Quite a beautiful duck, the female gets to sport some of the cooler feather combos with rust brown, jade, black and stippled grey feathers, with some cool patterning going on there and a bright white head. The blokes have the ‘All Black’ head and an overall darker colouring.

Pūtangitangi enjoy grassland which they will feed on, and can often be seen down at Lyndhurst Park (in between rugby matches!)

Their call is quite distinctive with a touch of the kazoo about it (have a listen!)

♫ Song – Credit Department of Conservation bird songs

Also see http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/paradise-shelduck

grey warbler - riroriro

RiroriroGrey warbler

Gerygone igata

The grey warbler are often heard with their beautiful high trilling song, but not so often seen…

Riroriro are a tiny little olive grey bird, weighing only about 6.5 grams. If you are lucky enough to see one of these shy little fellas up close, they have beautiful little red eyes! The Riroriro‘s tail feathers have white tips at the end and you can often see that band of white as they flit about.

Grey warbler are wonderful nest builders and will find a nice twiggy spot to build their impressive abode, dome shaped with a handy side entrance (manuka, kanuka and hedges are good spots apparently). Shining cuckoo are known to make use of these little guys’ super nests and chick raising abilities by leaving an egg in there – to be raised by the grey warbler…!

They mostly eat insects and are quite adept at nearly “hovering” to nab them.

♫ Song – Credit Department of Conservation bird songs

Also see http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/grey-warbler

kingfisher - kotare

Kōtare – Sacred Kingfisher

Halcyon sancta

A beautiful, statuesque at times, medium-sized bird with blue and buff yellowish plumage, Kōtare are often heard sounding their ‘kek-kek-kek’ territorial call.

Kingfishers often nest in the hollows of trees or in banks and return to the same one over and over.

Seemingly built for diving with a spear like beak they often do a spot of fishing, so watch your goldfish. Kōtare also feed on insects, spiders, lizards, mice and even small birds…

Also see http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/sacred-kingfisher


Kākāriki – Red-crowned Parakeet

Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae

A smart little parrot, mainly a stunning bright green, with a red crown adorning it’s cute little face, along with a dash of blue on the wing feathers. We don’t see many Kākāriki here yet… but with the healthy population at Zealandia we hope they will find the pickings good over the fence and venture out over time to Tawa.

We have plentiful food supply for them as they like berries, fruit, seeds and insects. Kākāriki can feed in forests or on the ground (even grassland), which does place them at a bit of risk from ground predators (good reason to get those pest traps out).

♫ Song – Credit Department of Conservation bird songs

Also see https://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/red-crowned-parakeet

Shining Cuckoo image
Image cred Aviceda, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Chrysococcyx lucidus

Pīpīwharauroa – Shining Cuckoo

A bit of cheeky bird, Shining Cuckoo actually lay an egg in a grey warbler nest for them to raise. It’s not all good for the grey warblers either as the newly hatched chick proceeds to boot the grey warbler chicks out. Noice.

Pīpīwharauroa are a beautiful bird, with lovely banding across their front and iridescent green feathers on their back. Their song is also quite beautiful and distinctive with it’s long descending tail notes.

They eat mainly invertebrates like caterpillars 🐛

♫ Song – To be added

Also see http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/shining-cuckoo

Pūkeko- Purple Swamphen

Porphyrio melanotus

Like a slimmed down Takahe, Pūkeko are similar in colouring, being a vivid dark blue and black with a solid red beak, gangly red legs and a white fluffy tail.

Quite a common and distinctive self introduced native. It’s thought they probably landed here from Aussie a long while back, perhaps blown off course. Pūkeko have found NZ very much to their liking and can be seen all over the place. Often feeding on the ground and nibbling away at the roots of plants they eat mainly ‘vegetarian’ but also do eat some other things eg. eggs, frogs, fish and the like.

Pūkeko often exercise short bursts of flight and can get quite squawky and defensive if you get too near their chicks (watch your ankles!). A favourite NZ picture book subject with their adventures – you can see why, when you watch them for a bit.

♫ Song – To be added

Also see http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/pukeko

Gallery of Non-Native Birds you might see

Introduced or visitors

Repository of Radio NZ bird calls

Hop over to the Radio NZ website to Listen again to some of your favourite early morning wakeups from RNZ

Recent Posts about bird life in Tawa

Birds in the Native Bush Reserves in Tawa – a bit of History

Early writers and settlers from the Tawa region describe with enthusiasm the abundance of birdlife that existed in the local bush. Carman (1956) refers to Elizabeth Greer who recounted travelling on a bullock dray in 1851 to settle in the Tawa area.

The forest was full of native birds, and all pioneers have commented on the clouds of green parakeets and pigeons.

Krull (2012) also gives his initial impressions on arrival in the area in February 1859.

The wonderful forest scene is enhanced by thousands of birds. A small green parrot with a long tail, a red topknot and blue feathers in its wings is the commonest bird here. [kākāriki – author]. There were thousands of them hopping about and swarming around us. But we also heard many singing birds with prettily coloured plumage.

Birds Prevalent in the 1850s Best (1914) refers to the birdlife which would have been observed by settlers of the 1840s to 1850s

Best (1914) refers to the birdlife which would have been observed by settlers of the 1840s to 1850s:

The birds formerly found in the forest of the district are:

Makomako, or bellbird; Tieke, or saddleback; Weka, or woodhen; Pitoitoi, or robin; Tui, or parson-bird; Kakariki, or parakeet; Titi-pounamu, or bush wren; Tateto, or whitehead; Kereru, or pigeon; Pihipihi, or blight-bird I (appeared in 1856); Kaka, or brown parrot; Tihe, or stitchbird; Piwakawaka, or fantail; Ruru, or morepork; Miromiro, or tomtit; Koekoea; Pipiwharauroa, or shining cuckoo; Riroriro, or grey warbler; Kahu, or hawk; Whioiii or lark; Kotare, or kingfisher; Karearea, or sparrow-hawk; Matukutuku, or blue heron; Teteiii, or brown duck; Parera, or grey duck; Papango, or black tealiv.

The bellbird, tui and parakeet were very numerous. The stitchbird was common and always seen in pairs, and usually in gullies. The grey warbler was common, and we have found thirteen eggs in one nest. Pigeons were numerous in the ‘forties and fifties’ but became scarce before the forest was destroyed. The bittern does not seem to have been known at Porirua. Occasionally one is seen in the Otaki district.

The Māoris of the Otaki district say that the kakapo was formerly found on the hills about Manakau and Ohau, but that it disappeared suddenly about sixty or seventy years ago. A half-caste now about sixty years of age relates that in his youth, he used to hear the old Natives speculating as to the cause of its disappearance.

The huia was not found in Porirua. The one seen by E. J. Wakefield and some Natives on the right bank of the Korokoro Stream in 1840 is the nearest seen to Porirua that we know of. Thirty or forty years ago they were fairly numerous between the Hutt and Waio-tauru Rivers, and some were obtained in that district at the time of the despatch of the troops to South Africa. (in 1899).

Secker (1978) also describes the birdlife of Tawa Flat and surrounding districts in Elizabeth Greer’s early years when her family settled the area in the 1851. In the 1850s and early 60s the bush would have been alive with the sound of bellbirds, tuis, the strident screech of the kaka, the heavy laboured beating of the pigeons flying overhead and the incessant chattering of parakeets who found the bush clearings to their liking. The avian fauna however brought problems to settlers. Parakeets and wekas wrought havoc among crops while other species spoiled the ripening orchard fruits.

The balance of nature however was soon altered and by 1875 such decimation of the avian population had occurred that the Wellington Provincial Government made it illegal to destroy any of these birds.

Notes on Best’s (1914) Descriptions

iblight bird is the silvereye, also called tauhou in Māori.

iiWhioi is not listed in ‘NZ Birds Online’. A possible mis-spelling, and may have been the pipit, or pihoihoi.

iiiTete is the grey teal, not the brown duck, so this is a mis-identification.  Although the brown teal/pateke is not mentioned by Best, they have been introduced and are now reproducing in Zealandia. A few birds have been sighted in the Hutt Valley, near Pencarrow and in the wetland at Te Papa.

ivPapango or black teal is also named as the New Zealand scaup.

Roper Gilbert, 2017: Tawa the tree, the community and its reserves pp 149-156. Tawa Historical Society.

Other NZ bird sites and information to explore

NZ Birds Online https://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/

NZ Birds https://www.nzbirds.com/

Department of Conservation

Forest and Bird

Take part in the the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey – https://gardenbirdsurvey.landcareresearch.co.nz/

Woodpigeon closeup

Credit: Most images thanks to Paul Bouda unless otherwise credited

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