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How to identify common New Zealand backyard birds

Attracting wild birds to your garden is not only hugely enjoyable and very rewarding. But it also helps with wildlife conversation by helping to reverse the trend of declining populations of once common birds. By using the simple information below you will learn more about the most common backyard birds in New Zealand and how to recognise them by their colour, shape, and behaviour.

House Sparrow

Male Appearance: Adult male sparrows are a chestnut brown colour above, with black-streaked on their backs, dark grey crown, greyish brown rump, and greyish-white underparts. Their bib and bill are black in the breeding season, for the rest of the year the bib is smaller and the bill is greyish-pink.
Female Appearance: Adult female and juvenile sparrows are a drab sandy brown colour above, streaked darker on back; greyish white below; pale buffy eyebrow and sides to the neck.
Flight: Their flight is fast and direct.
Habitat: They are commonly found in towns, farmland, orchards; sometimes edges of native forest.
Call: The call of the house sparrow is a variety of cheeps and chirps.

House Sparrow, a common NZ bird found in backyards


Male Appearance: The adult male Blackbird is black with a bright orange bill.
Adult Appearance: Female Blackbirds are dark brown with a smudgy mottled breast, unlike their male counterparts their bills are a dull orange/brown.
Flight: Blackbirds are naturally strong flyers.
Behaviour: They can be commonly seen feeding mainly on the ground. They are distinctive in their movement as they hop rather than walk. But these birds are naturally territorial and are often seen to chase other species, including natives such as Tuis.
Habitat: They are extremely commonly found in gardens, hedges, and coniferous forests and are birds you will commonly see around town or in your own backyard. 
Call: Song a loud clear tuneful warble, mellower than Song Thrush and not as repetitive. They also have a distinctive alarm call a persistent sharp ''tchink-tchink'' noise. 

Blackbird, a common NZ bird found in backyards

Song Thrush

Adult Colour: The song thrush can be easily recognised by its speckled brown-on-cream breast. In this species both the males and females look alike. 
Flight: The song thrush travels mainly at night with a strong and direct flight action. 
Behaviour: Thrushes are usually seen as single birds or in pairs, and are not known to flock. They commonly feed on the ground, where they hop and run.
Habitat: Song thrushes are widespread throughout New Zealand they occur in urban areas, farmlands, orchards, and lowland indigenous forests.
Call: Thrushes will often be seen before they are heard!! They perch high in trees and sing a loud string of repeated clear-cut musical phrases, each separated by a brief pause. These phrases are often repeated 2-3 times in a row. 

Song Thrush, a common NZ bird found in backyards


Adult Colour: The starling is a compact bird with a short tail. Their feathers have white spots which wear off and leave a dark iridescent breeding plumage. Their wing and tail feathers are black and edged with pale brown.  
Flight: Their flight is strong and direct.
Behaviour: This common backyard bird is easily recognised by its noisy, hyperactive behaviour. They have a distinctive jerky waddling walk and commonly feed by using their long and pointed bill to forage through soil or leaves to find insects, grain, or berries.
Habitat: These birds are found throughout NZ in urban, farmland, orchards, parks, gardens, city streets, forest margins, and beaches.
Call: These noisy birds can be identified by their shrill whistles ad song with interspersed clicks and gurgles. Starlings can imitate other sounds like police sirens and voices with uncanny accuracy, and incorporate calls and song phrases from other bird species in their song.

Starling bird, a common NZ bird found in backyards


Adult Colour: The common myna is readily identified by the brown body, black hooded head, and the bare yellow patch behind the eye. The bill and legs are an eye-catching bright yellow.
Behaviour: These birds are commonly seen eating roadkill on roads and just flying off at the last minute to avoid traffic. In the breeding season, they are strongly territorial and are often seen, in rural areas, attacking Magpies or even Hawk's that stray too close to their territory.
Habitat: They are widely introduced throughout the country and can be found in forests, scrub, farmland with hedges and river margins, parks, and gardens.
Call: Loud chickork-chickork-chickork (territorial proclamation) given while head-bobbing, may be accompanied by a complicated series of quiet calls.

Mynah, , a common NZ bird found in backyards


Also Known As: Pīwakawaka

Adult Colour: Small bird with small head and bill; long tail, often fanned. Pied phase has a grey head, white eyebrow, brown back; yellow underparts, with white and black bands across chest; black and a white tail.
Flight: Erratic flight as it hawks over forest or scrub canopy, into an insect swarm over a clearing, paddock, pond, or garden.
Behaviour: Restless movements; twists and jerks on a perch, tail fanned, flies out to seize flying insects.
Call: Their song is a penetrating ''cheet''; song a harsh rhythmical ''saw-like'' ''tweet-a-tweet-a-tweet-a-tweet"

Fantail, a common NZ bird found in backyards


Also Known As: Silvereye or Tauhou

Adult Appearance: A friendly olive-green bird with white/silver rings around its eyes.
Behaviour: A gregarious species Wax-Eyes are well known for flocking especially in winter. They are a mobile species that forages actively for food in areas of dense trees or scrub.
Habitat: Commonly found in parklands, woodlands, suburban gardens, forests, and scrublands.

Wax-eye, a common NZ bird found in backyards

European Goldfinch

Adult Appearance: Goldfinches are smaller than a house sparrow, with a bright yellow wingbar visible both in flight and when perched. Otherwise their wings and tail are black with some white spots near the tail tip that contrast with their brown back.
Flight: Several rapid wing beats and then a pause. 
Behaviour: Agile and acrobatic when seeking seeds, goldfinches often hang upside down from seed heads, and flutter from plant to plant. 
Habitat: Anywhere throughout the country from farmland, orchards, coastal vegetation, riverbeds, plantations, and urban areas – almost anywhere other than dense native forest.

Goldfinch, a common NZ bird found in backyards

European Greenfinch

Adult Appearance: The largest of NZ's introduced finches the Greenfinch is similar in size to but more thickset than a common house sparrow. They are sexually dimorphic; males are green, varying in intensity, with some yellow on the abdomen. Meanwhile, the female, by contrast, is dull and sparrow-like with little yellow on the wings. 
Flight: Swift bounding flight with rapid wing beats 
Behaviour: Greenfinches are monogamous during the breeding season, but forms flocks during the autumn and winter months. These flocks range in size from fewer than 10 individuals to one estimated at 10,000 birds. They even form mixed flocks with other finches at good food sources and are also commonly associated with sparrows and silver-eyes.
Habitat: Greenfinches mainly occupy man-modified habitats including farmland, scrub, pine plantations, orchards, and suburban parks and gardens.

Greenfinch, a common NZ bird found in backyards


Also Known as: Kukupa or NZ wood pigeon.

Adult Appearance: It is hard to miss the Kereru, New Zealand's largest pigeon. This bird has eye-catching metallic green/ purple feathers on its head throat and upper breast. These feathers contrast against the white feathers on its lower breast, belly, and legs.
Flight: In-flight, strong steady wing beats, broad rounded wings, and long broad tail; the noisy swish of wings is distinctive.
Behaviour: These birds are often hard to spot - even though they are huge birds. During the non-breeding season, they spend hours breeding and roosting under the thick canopy. Although in the breeding season they are much more active. 
Habitat: Native forests, especially in lowland areas, scrub, forest patches among farmland, rural and city gardens, and parks. 
Call: Call a single soft penetrating ''kuu''

Kereru, a common NZ bird found in backyards


Also Known as: Kōkō.

Adult Appearance: A striking dark bird with two white throat tufts. Although the Tui often looks black, when seen in the sun it has a green, blue and purple iridescent sheen to its feathers.  Although they are most recognisable for their eye-catching lacy collar of white feathers on the neck and white wing-bar. 
Flight: Tui's are easily recognisable in flight by the noisy whirring noises they make in between short glides.
Behaviour: They are cheeky and energetic birds! That often looks to be performing acrobatics while feeding in trees or on nectar and fruit.
Habitat: Native forest and scrub, farmland with kowhai, gums and flax, parks, and gardens.
Call: Their song has rich fluid melodic notes mixed with coughs, clicks, grunts, and wheezes.

Tui, a common NZ bird found in backyards

When it comes to backyard bird identification it can be hard work, as often when you see a bird you do not recognise it may be only a fleeting glance before it flies away. So the best thing to do when you see an unknown bird species is to snap a photo on your phone, or quickly write down everything you can about it. 

This guide should help you to identify some of the most common species of birds you will encounter in your day-to-day life in New Zealand. 


The Team

Written by The Team

A team of specialists with backgrounds in animal nursing, animal care, and all things pet related.