Southland offers some of the best bird watching opportunities and bird sanctuaries in the country with an abundance of native bird species living in the area. It has several unique bird features including kiwi spotting, the largest takahē population in New Zealand, the only kākāpō breeding programme in New Zealand, a mutton birding industry, the cheeky kea in Fiordland and Ulva Island which is home to a variety of unusual species.
Ulva Island, just off the coast of Stewart Island, is an absolute joy for bird watchers with the chance to see weka, kākā, Stewart Island robin (toutouwai), red crowned parakeet (kakariki), rifleman (titipounamu), mohua (yellowhead) and kererū (New Zealand wood pigeon). It is one of the only predator-free islands in New Zealand that is open for people to visit and explore at their own leisure. As soon as you step on to the island, the air is alive with the sound of tūī and bellbirds. The added beauty of Ulva Island is the birds come so close you often don’t even need binoculars or a telephoto lens to see them.
The Southland area also offers the chance to see one of the rarest penguins in the world – the hoiho or yellow-eyed penguin. These birds can commonly be seen along the Catlins Coast and occasionally offshore of Stewart Island.
On Stewart Island itself there are some 20,000 Stewart Island kiwis, which are a sub-species of the brown kiwi with larger legs and beaks. The island is also home to many other native bird species including kākā, tūī and bellbird. Many bird species absent from much of New Zealand flock to Stewart Island in large numbers. It is a refuge to the southern New Zealand dotterel, kākāpo and the South Island saddleback. Seabirds also abound off-shore of Stewart Island and Southland with albatross, blue penguins (the smallest of the penguins), gulls, petrels and sooty shearwater commonly seen.
Ten minutes out of Invercargill on privately owned, protected forest and wetland reserve you’ll find one of the best places to see fern birds in New Zealand. Bird watching is made easy with an abundance of Bellbirds, Grey Warblers, Fantails and Shining Cuckoo a summer visitor.
Southland’s large tidal estuaries and coastal lagoons also make up some of the most important bird habitat areas in Southland. Awarua Wetlands, southeast of Invercargill, is the largest area of protected wetland in southern New Zealand and provides a feeding ground for native and migratory birds. Awarua Bay itself attracts rare visitors to New Zealand such as Siberian tattler, greenshank and sanderling.