Native Animals and Plants

Animals and Plants in New Zealand 



The kiwi is a curious bird: it cannot fly, has loose, hair-like feathers, strong legs and no tail. Mostly nocturnal, they are most commonly forest dwellers, making daytime dens and nests in burrows, hollow logs or under dense vegetation. Kiwi are the only bird to have nostrils at the end of its very long bill which is used to probe in the ground, sniffing out invertebrates to eat, along with some fallen fruit. It also has one of the largest egg-to-body weight ratios of any bird - the egg averages 15 per cent of the female's body weight (compared to two per cent for the ostrich).


Pūkeko is the New Zealand name for the purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio). There are many subspecies of purple swamphen. The subspecies found in New Zealand (Porphyrio porphyrio melanotus) is thought to have landed here around a thousand years ago from Australia. The bird is  recognised by a deep blue colour, with a black head and upperparts, white feathers under their tail, and a red bill and legs. They are laboured and reluctant flyers, but good waders, swimmers and runners. Pūkeko are aggressive and territorial.


New Zealand is a hotspot for marine mammals, with almost half the world’s whale and dolphin species found here. Hunting in the early 19th century drastically reduced populations of whales. Nowadays whales are protected, cameras have replaced harpoons and encounters with these majestic animals are increasingly common. Many different types of whales can be seen in New Zealand. Some live here year round and others pass through on their seasonal journeys between their breeding grounds in warmer waters to the north of New Zealand and the rich feeding grounds in the cooler Southern Ocean.



Ferns are typically found in moist, forested areas because they require lots of water. Ferns are abundant in all damp situations in New Zealand forests, forming the undergrowth beneath a dense canopy of evergreen trees. They are also found growing on tree trunks and branches and along stream banks. Some hardy species have adapted to other drier habitats such as coastal, alpine, urban and even desert locations. Tree ferns are some of the most distinctive features of our forests. They occur in all forest types and are most plentiful in cut-over and degraded forests, where light levels are relatively high. They also appear in older plantations of exotic trees that are relatively open.


Is a coastal evergreen tree in the myrtle family, Myrtaceae, that produces a brilliant display of red flowers made up of a mass of stamens. The pōhutukawa is one of twelve Metrosideros species endemic to New Zealand. Renowned for its vibrant colour and its ability to survive even perched on rocky, precarious cliffs, it has found an important place in New Zealand culture for its strength and beauty and is regarded as a chiefly tree (rākau rangatira) by Māori. The blossom of the tree is called kahika.

Kauri Tree

Kauri are among the world's mightiest trees, growing to more than 50 metres tall, with trunk girths of up to 16 metres and living for more than 2000 years. Kauri forests once covered 1.2 million hectares from the Far North of Northland to Te Kauri, near Kawhia and were common when the first people arrived around 1000 years ago. 

Learn more about animal, plant and heritage conservation and the pests and threats that threaten them: The Department of Conservation.

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