Morepork/ruru

The morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae) is New Zealand’s only surviving native owl.

Morepork, close up of head and shoulders. Photo: Dick Veitch.
Morepork are speckled brown with yellow eyes set in a dark facial mask

Often heard in the forest at dusk and throughout the night, the morepork is known for its haunting, melancholic call. Its Maori name, ruru, reflects this call.

The much larger laughing owl became extinct in the 20th century. The German or little owl is a smaller species often found on open and lightly wooded farmland. It was introduced to New Zealand between 1906 and 1910 to try to control smaller introduced birds.

Quick facts

  • Morepork are commonly found in forests throughout mainland New Zealand and on offshore islands.
  • They are less common within the drier open regions of Canterbury and Otago. They are classified as not threatened.
  • Morepork are speckled brown with yellow eyes set in a dark facial mask. They have a short tail.
  • The females are bigger than the males.
  • Head to tail they measure around 29cm and the average weight is about 175g.
  • They have acute hearing and are sensitive to light.
  • They can turn their head through 270 degrees.

Morepork/ruru. Photo © Sabine Bernert.
Often heard in the forest at dusk and throughout the night, the morepork is known for its haunting, melancholic call. Its Maori name, ruru, reflects this call.

Nocturnal birds of prey

Morepork eating huhu beetle. Photo © Sabine Bernert.
Morepork eating a huhu beetle

Morepork are nocturnal, hunting at night for large invertebrates including beetles, weta, moths and spiders. They will also take small birds, rats and mice.

They fly silently as they have soft fringes on the edge of the wing feathers. They catch prey using large sharp talons or beak.

By day they roost in the cavities of trees or in thick vegetation. If they are visible during the day they can get mobbed by other birds and are forced to move.

Nesting and breeding

  • Morepork nest in tree cavities, in clumps of epiphytes or among rocks and roots.
  • The female can lay up to three eggs, but generally two, usually between September and November.
  • The female alone incubates the eggs for about 20 to 30 days during which time the male brings in food for her.
  • Once the chicks hatch, the female stays mainly on the nest until the owlets are fully feathered. 
  • They fledge around 37-42 days.
  • Depending on food supply often only one chick survives and the other may be eaten.

Maori tradition

In Maori tradition the morepork was seen as a watchful guardian. It belonged to the spirit world as it is a bird of the night. Although the more-pork or ruru call was thought to be a good sign, the high pitched, piercing, ‘yelp’ call was thought to be an ominous forewarning of bad news or events.

Morepork/ruru sound recording

Morepork, Little Barrier Island. Photo: Dick Veitch.
Morepork, Little Barrier Island

Listen to or download a recording of morepork/ruru song.

Morepork/ruru song (MP3, 1,620K)
1 minute 43 second recording of morepork/ruru song.

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Threats

Predation and loss of habitat

Two morepork chicks peering out from nest hole, Little Barrier Island. Photo: Dick Veitch.
Two morepork chicks peering
out from nest hole, Little Barrier Island

Morepork are still considered to be relatively common but it is likely that numbers are in gradual decline due to predation and loss of habitat.

As the female is a hole-nester she is vulnerable to predators such as stoats and possums during the breeding season and eggs and chicks will also be at risk from rats.

Poisons

Morepork are possibly threatened from the use of toxins (particularly anti coagulants) used to reduce the numbers of predators. As morepork are at the top of the food chain they could be affected by an accumulative poison by eating live prey that has ingested poison.

Morepork/ruru. Photo © Sabine Bernert.
The morepork/ruru is New Zealand’s only surviving native owl

DOC's work

Discover videos and check out the latest news articles about morepork/ ruru and DOC's work with these species.

Populations and pest management

Morepork chick. Photo: C.D.Roderick.
Morepork chick

DOC is involved in testing methods for measuring the population of morepork so that we can determine if they are increasing or decreasing in areas where pests are being managed.

Monitoring birds with transmitters

This involves putting transmitters on a number of birds in the Eglinton Valley and Waitutu to determine survival and mortality. Regular day and night-time monitoring of the transmittered birds will show where the territories are and give an indication of the actual numbers of birds. 

A number of call counting methods will be completed over the area to determine what the relationship is between the number of calls and the number of birds. Improved technology and the use of automated recorders will help in this venture and will be tested in the near future.

 Morepork, Eglinton Valley, Fiordland National Park. Photo: Rod Hay.
Morepork, Eglinton Valley, Fiordland National Park.

You can help

There are many ways you can help morepork:

  • Control predators (possums, rats and stoats) in your forest areas. Read more abour predator control methods.
  • Keep old trees on your property so that morepork have nesting places.
  • Plant new (preferably native) trees so that morepork will have places to nest in the future.
  • Join the Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust

Related links

 

Find out more

Learn more

New Zealand Birds Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand birds

Contacts

DOC's 24 hour emergency hotline:

0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)

Call to report sick or injured wildlife, and whale or dolphin strandings.