A bird nerd's guide to Stewart Island's native birds

Date: 12 April 2019

Ulva Island is a beautiful island sanctuary just off the coast of Stewart Island and is home to many native and rare birds. The pristine rainforest has never been milled and has been pest-free since 1997, creating a safe space for threatened species to thrive. Here are some of the birds you’ll want to keep an eye out for when you’re on an Ulva Island cruise.

Stewart Island Brown Kiwi (Tokoeka)

This nocturnal, flightless bird is New Zealand’s national bird. There are five species of kiwi and only about 68,000 left in the world. Stewart Island is one of the best places to see a kiwi bird in the wild – a bucket list item for any avid birdwatcher.

Book a Wild Kiwi Encounter trip and venture by torchlight through the native forest with the stars and forest night sounds around you.  The walk will take about 45 minutes one-way and the track emerges on to Ocean Beach.  This wide sandy beach is where kiwi are often found feeding among the grasses and seaweed.

Yellow-Eyed Penguin and Blue Penguin (Hoiho and Korora)

Most tourists will want to see penguins at some point during their New Zealand holiday, and you’ll likely get to spot a few of these rare penguins on your Ulva Island excursion. With just 3,600 yellow-eyed penguins remaining, seeing one of them in its natural habitat would be a treat.


Weka are another flightless bird endemic to New Zealand. Also known as the native woodhen, weka have a feisty and curious personality and are often attracted to humans and the small objects they might have with them.  Often mistaken for Kiwi! 


Kaka are large parrots found in native forests similar to the better-known kea. However, you can spot these olive-brown coloured parrots on Ulva Island and potentially hear their loud, musical whistles. 

South Island Saddlebacks (Tieke)

Yet another very rare bird, the South Island saddleback is found exclusively on Ulva Island. While the population dropped to just 1265 in 2003, it has since increased to 2000.

Rifleman (Tītipounamu)

The rifleman is New Zealand’s smallest bird, weighing in at just 6 grams and only 7 to 9 centimetres big. Though they are recently extinct on Stewart Island, those with a sharp eye can still see this bird on Ulva Island.


These brightly coloured red and yellow-crowned parakeets birds are fairly common on both Stewart and Ulva Island, though the yellow-crowned variety is more commonly sighted on Ulva Island. Both are medium-sized, bright green parakeets that can be identified based on their chatter.

With RealNZ, you’ll discover the beauty and tranquility of Stewart Island via a leisurely cruise around Paterson Inlet and a guided walk through the Ulva Island Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a must-do activity for any birdwatching enthusiast. Book your Ulva Island Explorer tour today!

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