From the heaviest insect in the world to numerous flightless birds, New Zealand is home to some of the world’s strangest and most unique wildlife. Summing up New Zealand facts about animals is almost as tricky as spotting many of these shy creatures in the wild.
The people of New Zealand love their strange birds so much they even hold an annual Bird of the Year competition, which is often just as popular as the general election. Some years the cheeky kea wins, others the fabulous kakapo, and of course, the beloved kiwi is always a favorite.
Besides the winged animals, New Zealand is also home to more than its fair share of sheep, cows, goats, deer, and other interesting introduced species. Below we take a look at 25 New Zealand facts about animals that are sure to leave you in awe.
New Zealand facts about animals – the kiwi bird
We’ll start with the most famous bird of New Zealand, the kiwi. This beloved bird is everything to New Zealand, so much so, New Zealanders call themselves Kiwis with the utmost pride (more about that soon). Here are some facts about the iconic flightless bird:
1. New Zealanders call themselves Kiwis after the kiwi bird
While the term Kiwi was originally a nickname for New Zealand as a country, after the First World War, the people of New Zealand began being referred to as Kiwis. This is likely due to a picture of a kiwi worn on military uniforms, and as New Zealanders were well proud of the kiwi bird, the nickname was embraced and it’s now a large part of New Zealand culture and traditions.
2. The kiwi bird has tiny wings but cannot fly.
You may assume if a country names itself after a bird, that bird will be able to fly. Not so much for the kiwi. While the bird does have tiny wings, only about 1 inch long, they are invisible under the feathers and do not function.
3. The kiwi bird has the largest egg-to-body weight ratio of any bird.
The average egg takes up 15% of the female’s body weight. If that doesn’t sound crazy, compare that to 2% of an ostrich’s weight, chickens would be laying one-pound eggs, and humans would be giving birth to a four-year-old.
4. The kiwi bird has an incredible sense of smell.
The kiwi bird is the only bird known to have nostrils at the end of its beak. Their incredible sense of smell allows them to sniff out worms, insects, seeds, and fruit buried under the ground, and it’s believed they can detect food buried over an inch deep.
5. The kiwi bird is nocturnal.
Your chances of spotting a kiwi bird in the wild are very rare. Not only because their numbers are so low, but because they only tend to come out of their burrows after nightfall. During this time, they’ll hunt for insects and earthworms with their excellent sense of smell and will scurry away at any sign of danger. If you go to a bird sanctuary to see a kiwi bird, they’ll have the lights turned off during the day to mimic nightfall and leave the lights on at night, so kiwis sleep when there are no visitors.
6. The kiwi bird mates for life.
Or pretty near close. The kiwi bird will pair up and mate with one another for up to 20 years. This is especially important as growing and laying an egg takes up an incredible amount of energy for the female, so the male will take over most of the incubation while the female replenishes herself.
New Zealand facts about animals – the kea
Next on the list of most loved animals in New Zealand is the cheeky kea, a mountain parrot with more personality than one could ever imagine a bird to have. The kea is the only true alpine parrot in the world, and they aren’t afraid to show off their uniqueness.
7. Keas get their name from the sound they make.
Keas make a loud, high-pitched scream that sounds like ‘keeey-aaaahhhh.’ When Maori, the indigenous peoples of New Zealand named animals, they often used onomatopoeic – meaning they called the animals of New Zealand by the sound they make.
8. Keas are thought to have the intelligence of a four-year-old.
Keas are known to solve basic puzzles to get food and just for fun, and will also use sharpened sticks with their beak to pry things open. Keas love puzzles so much, the Department of Conservation will use puzzles to distract keas from messing with important infrastructure.
9. Keas have very cheeky personalities.
Keas love to play, and often, that play is a bit cheeky. Keas have been known to move road cones which then cause chaotic traffic, play with vehicles windscreen scrapers, move hikers boots, turn on water taps at huts, and much more. Keas even have a specific sound they make to entice other keas to start playing.
10. In the past, a bounty was given for keas due to the thought that they killed sheep.
Keas have a dark side. On very rare occasions, keas will peck away at a sheep’s back until it dies. Due to this, between 1860 and 1970, a bounty was offered for keas, and they were almost killed to extension.
11. Keas only live on the South Island of New Zealand.
Unless you’re in the alpine regions of the South Island of New Zealand, you won’t be seeing any keas in the wild. Keas are quite picky when it comes to their habitat and prefer to live above the tree line. They especially love hanging out around mountain huts, where they can sneak off with food left out by hikers.
New Zealand facts about animals – the extinct
New Zealand was only settled by European explores in the mid-1600s, and before then, it was an absolute haven for incredible bird species. Unfortunately, man brought along animals that outcompeted native birds for food, and many have since become extinct.
12. The moa reached 12 feet in height and weighed up to 500 pounds.
Can you imagine coming across a towering 12 foot tall bird as you’re hiking through the forest? If the moa weren’t hunted to extension in 1445, they’d be the largest land animal in New Zealand. These gentle giants were flightless and were thought to eat berries, seeds, twigs, and leaves.
13. The Haast eagle is known to be the largest eagle to have ever existed.
With a wingspan of between 6.5 to 10 feet and weighing in at up to 35 pounds, it’s no wonder the Haast eagle became the main character in many Maori myths and legends. The Haast eagle’s main prey was the Moa and went extinct around the same time.
14. The laughing owl had a call that sounded like the laughter of a mad man.
Another innocent animal that became a thing of legend – the laughing owl. With a call that sounded like crazy laughter, it’s not the animal you wanted to make a home right outside your bedroom window. Even so, these native New Zealand owls became extinct after stoats, ferrets, and weasels were introduced into the country.
15. The takahe was considered extinct and then was rediscovered.
The takahe are so shy and great at hiding that they were thought to be extinct between the late 1890s and 1948. Today, they’re the largest flightless bird in the country and continue to live in very small numbers in remote Fiordland valleys.
New Zealand facts about animals – the imported and the farm animals
As we mentioned before, when European explorers settled new Zealand, they brought with them both intentionally and unintentionally a range of animals. Some stuck around, and some haven’t.
16. Captain James Cook sailed to New Zealand with his Cook’s Ark.
When Captain James Cook sailed to New Zealand, he brought cows, sheep, pigs, and chicken with him. The pigs especially took well to New Zealand’s landscape and are still found today throughout the country, gobbling up wild berries and fruits that otherwise would go towards feeding native species.
17. There is an estimated ten sheep for every person in New Zealand.
If you’ve driven across the North Island or South Island, you’ll know the landscapes are heavily dominated by rolling green hills dotted with sheep. So much so, there are almost 50 million sheep in New Zealand.
18. The possum is New Zealand’s mortal enemy.
While they may look cute, possums eat an astonishing amount of vegetation and outcompete native birds for food. Possums will also eat native bird eggs and carry diseases that harm farm life. The country is even trying to eradicate possums entirely with a Predator Free 2050 campaign.
19. There may be wild moose living in Fiordland.
In 1910, moose were released in Fiordland in hopes they would take to the land and become a trophy game for hunters. Unfortunately, they didn’t multiply in numbers as the hunters had hoped, and the last one photographed was in 1953. Even so, there are still rumors floating around they exist deep in Fiordland.
20. Fiordland deer are hunted by helicopter.
Even though you may not spot a moose while in New Zealand, chances are you might dine on wild Fiordland deer. The wild Fiordland deer took to the land much better and now live throughout Fiordland. Since there are hardly any roads in Fiordland, hunters take to helicopters to capture these prized animals.
A few more random facts about animals in New Zealand
New Zealand is filled to the brim with incredible wildlife, so here are a few fun facts we just couldn’t leave out.
21. Bats are the only land mammals native to New Zealand.
Sheep, cows, dogs, cats, and other mammals populate New Zealand. However, in the beginning, the long-tailed and short-tailed bats were the only land mammals in the country. Leave it to New Zealand to only have flightless birds and flying mammals.
22. There are no animals that could kill you in New Zealand.
Even though New Zealand is a bit like Australia’s little brother, they couldn’t be different when it comes to animals. One of the most dangerous animals in New Zealand is the possum, although New Zealand is home to three spiders that rarely bite and cause pain.
23. There are no snakes that live on land in New Zealand.
Not a fan of snakes? You’ll love this fact about New Zealand. Besides a couple of sea snakes that visit New Zealand’s waters on very rare occasions, the country is completely snake-free. Even better, if a snake is found in the country, a squad of biosecurity specialists ensures it’s, ahem, taken care of.
24. The heaviest insect in the world lives in New Zealand.
With a body growing up to 4 inches long and weighing up to 2.5 ounces, the giant weta of New Zealand is a sight to see. Luckily for humans, they’re too big to jump or fly, so if you’re not a fan, you won’t have to worry about one chasing you down.
25. 13 of the world’s 18 species of penguins have been recorded in New Zealand.
New Zealand has seen more species of penguins than any other country in the world. Of the 13 species, nine have been known to breed in the country. Even so, most live on one of New Zealand’s offshore islands, so you’re most likely to see the little Blue penguin, the Yellow-eyed penguin, or the Fiordland crested penguin.
New Zealand facts about animals – FAQ’s
What animals is New Zealand known for?
New Zealand is known for its abundance of sheep and unique birdlife. Sheep outnumber people almost 10 to 1, so you’ll no doubt see one or a few hundred during your time in New Zealand. New Zealand is also home to many rare and strange birds, from the kea, a cheeky alpine parrot, to the flightless kiwi bird.
What is New Zealand’s favorite animal?
New Zealand’s favorite animal is the beloved kiwi bird, so much so, New Zealanders even call themselves Kiwis. This flightless, rather large bird is endangered and nocturnal, making it a rare and special occasion to see one in the wild.
How many animals live in New Zealand?
Animals vastly outnumber humans in New Zealand, and the country is home to an incredible array of birds, fish, insects, and lizards. On the other hand, New Zealand is only home to two native land mammals, both of which are bats. It’s estimated that humans only make up 5% of all living beings in New Zealand.