What are game birds?
In New Zealand, 13 bird species may be seasonally hunted, and are known as game birds. They can be divided into upland game and waterfowl.
Upland game, which live on dry land, are all members of the pheasant family. They include:
- ring-necked pheasants
- grey, red-legged and chukor partridges
- California, brown and bobwhite quails.
Wetland game birds include:
- four duck species – mallards, grey ducks, Australasian shovelers and paradise shelducks
- black swans
Although grey partridges and bobwhite quails remain on the game list, they are no longer present in the wild in New Zealand.
The Wildlife Act 1953 defines all these species as game, and they are managed by regional fish and game councils. Hunters who purchase a game-bird licence, and follow regulations, can legally hunt these birds at certain times of the year (usually autumn and winter) – called ‘the season’.
Native and introduced birds
The grey duck, Australasian shoveler, paradise shelduck, black swan and pūkeko are all native to New Zealand; the other eight species are introduced.
Other birds that are hunted
Some birds not listed in the Wildlife Act as game birds are also hunted. They include the Cape Barren goose, greylag goose, wild turkey and peafowl. The Canada goose was officially a game bird until 2011, when it was removed from the list. It is now unprotected, and may be hunted at any time of year, by any method.
Early game-bird hunting
Game-bird hunting dates back to the earliest years of European arrival. British navigator James Cook and his crew shot many birds in 1769. For centuries, before Europeans arrived, Māori snared and speared birds. Various native species of duck, quail, New Zealand pigeon and even godwit were hunted by Europeans.
Introducing game birds
European settlers introduced birds to add to the native fauna, and out of nostalgia for creatures of the ‘old country’. They also wanted to provide sport and food, and promote tourism.
Author Brad Parkes wrote about the tough stringy flesh of the pūkeko (also dubbed the ‘West Coast pheasant’): ‘Perhaps I’ve been prejudiced by the time worn cooking recipe for pukeko: Put in 4 gallon kero tin, weigh down with clean river boulder, boil for four days, throw away pukeko and eat boulder.’1
The founder of the Canterbury settlement, John Robert Godley, ensured that pheasants were on the first four ships that established Christchurch. Colonial governor and later New Zealand premier George Grey was a keen importer of wildlife, and provided the first California quail to the Nelson Acclimatisation Society in the mid-1860s.
European mallard ducks were introduced from the late 1860s, but mallards did not become naturalised until Cecil Whitney of the Auckland Acclimatisation Society brought in the more suitable North American species in 1937. Whitney reared many birds and made around 3,500 eggs available to farmers between 1941 and 1943.
Acclimatisation societies also tried to introduce many other game-bird species. Birds that failed to become naturalised included common snipe, grouse (introduced to the central North Island along with heather, which still remains), ptarmigan, and some species of quail and pigeon.