Kea on the Hump Ridge Track
Pink Penguin Studio

Birds of Southland

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, karuwai Stewart Island Robin, kākāriki red-crowned parakeet, titipounamu rifleman, 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 leisure. As soon as you step onto 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 yellow-eyed penguin. These birds are commonly seen along the Catlins Coast and occasionally offshore of Stewart Island.

On Stewart Island, there are some 20,000 Stewart Island kiwis, which are a sub-species of 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 offshore 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 a 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 summer visitors.

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 protected wetland area in southern New Zealand and provides a feeding ground for native and migratory birds. Awarua Bay attracts rare New Zealand visitors, such as Siberian tattler, greenshank and sanderling.

Learn more about Southland birdlife by hearing from the experts on one of these tours:

Wildlife & Wilderness

Want to listen to native birdsong? Or spot kiwis hiding in the dark? Or even just take a cruise to experience a range of wildlife? Southland is the place to explore and find everything from seals, to shellfish, seagulls, to sharks!…