This is the most widely distributed and abundant of the three species of owl in New Zealand. The other two species are the laughing owl (another native), which is extinct in the North Island and very close to extinction in the South, and the introduced little owl (often incorrectly called German owl), which occurs only in the South Island. Other races of morepork are found beyond New Zealand. In Australia the bird is frequently known as the boobook. This name, like the common New Zealand one, is based on the bird's usual call as, too, is the Maori name, ruru.
The morepork is one of a number of native species that have to some extent, at least, adapted themselves to environments that have been greatly changed since settlement. Predominantly birds of the native forests, they may now frequent some city parks and even exotic pine forests. Though usually active only when dusk has fallen or before daylight, moreporks may sometimes appear in the forest during the day and then run the risk of being noisily mobbed by any songbirds in the vicinity. In colour a rich spotted or streaky brown, moreporks have a brown face and golden eyes, though the latter are seen only at their best in bright light when the pupil is fully contracted. Food is mainly insects, but bats, small birds, and even rats, mice, and lizards will be taken when opportunity permits. Undigested material is disgorged in the form of pellets. In common with other owls, moreporks have excellent and accurate hearing and an almost silent flight.
Between October and December a nest is made in a tree hole or in a thick clump of the perching astelia or kiekie. In most instances two eggs are laid; incubation takes about a month and the young leave the nest some five weeks later.
As well as the familiar call, which has some resemblance to that of the European cuckoo, another is heard during the breeding season. This is “kree”, given with a rising inflection. The beak is rapidly snapped as an alarm or warning note.
A morepork motif appears in the wide staring eyes of certain Maori carvings.
by Gordon Roy Williams, B.SC.(HONS.)(SYDNEY), Lecturer in Agricultural Zoology, Lincoln Agricultural College.