Story: Introduced land birds
Many of the most common birds in New Zealand were introduced by European settlers. Some that were released to control agricultural pests have become pests themselves.
Full story by Christina Troup
Main image: Nesting white-backed magpies
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Land of birds
As well as native birds, New Zealand has a large number of birds that have been introduced from other countries. Most were brought by European settlers from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.
Less than a third of the species introduced managed to survive and breed in the wild, but some that did are now among the most common birds in New Zealand.
Why introduce birds?
People introduced birds because they:
- missed the birds from their homelands
- hoped the birds would eat the pests that were damaging crops, such as caterpillars, moths and beetles
- hoped the birds might eat other introduced birds that had become pests
- wanted to provide a hunting resource.
Some birds were brought to New Zealand as caged pets, but escaped to the wild.
Birds from around the world
Most of the birds set free in New Zealand were from Europe, where most of the settlers came from. Others came from Asia, Australia and North America.
Native birds and plants
Some introduced birds became pests by eating crops and threatening native birds. For example, magpies sometimes eat the eggs and chicks of native birds.
They are not all bad though – some introduced birds pollinate flowers and spread the seeds of native plants.
Some introduced birds
- Pigeons could be trained to take messages from one place to another. People would write messages on paper and put them in a container attached to the pigeon’s leg.
- Cockatoos and rosellas were brought from Australia as pets, but some escaped and lived in the wild. Rosellas have very brightly coloured feathers.
- Little owls were introduced in the hope that they would eat small introduced birds that had become pests, but instead they mainly eat small animals.
- Blackbirds and song thrushes were brought to New Zealand because settlers from England missed their familiar calls.
- House sparrows were introduced to eat insects that ate crops – but they usually eat the crops themselves, so are considered a pest.