New Zealand falcon/kārearea

Female bush falcon at Wingspan. Photo copyright: Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust.
Female bush falcon at Wingspan.

Capable of flying at speeds over 100 km/h and catching prey larger than itself, the New Zealand falcon/kārearea (Falco novaeseelandiae) is one of New Zealand's most spectacular birds.
 
One of 38 species of falcon worldwide, the New Zealand falcon is endemic to this country.
 
The falcon has a wide distribution, being found on both the North and South Islands and several offshore islands, including Stewart Island and the subantarctic Auckland Islands.

Facts

Adult female bush falcon in attack. Photo copyright: Dilan Rajasingham/Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust.
A falcon in attack

One of 38 species of falcon worldwide, the New Zealand falcon is endemic to this country.

Distribution and density

The falcon has a wide distribution, being found on both the North and South Islands and several offshore islands, including Stewart Island and the subantarctic Auckland Islands.

Recently, plantation pine forests have been found to be important breeding habitats for falcons.

The highest known density of the species is found in Kaingaroa pine forest in the central North Island.

Three ecological forms 

  • Small dark ‘Bush’ falcons live in forests in the North Island, mainly south of Hamilton, and in forests of NW South Island as far south as Greymouth.
  • Large paler “Eastern” falcons live in open dryer habitats east of the Southern Alps but extend from coast to coast in central South Island.
  • “Southern” falcons are intermediate in size and colouration and live in Fiordland, Stewart Island and the Auckland Islands.

Fast facts

  • Capable of flying at speeds over 100 km/h. 
  • Can catch prey larger than itself.
  • Adult birds measure between 40 cm and 50 cm.
  • Males are smaller than females and weigh between 240 g and 350 g while females weigh between 410 g and 640 g.

Hunting

  • Close up of a juvenile falcon. Photo copyright: Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust.
    The New Zealand falcon is a fierce hunter

    New Zealand falcons hunt live prey, mainly by watching from a vantage point and making a fast direct flying attack and either striking or grasping the prey with their feet which are equipped with sharp talons.
  • They kill their prey with a quick powerful bite to the neck. 
  • They feed on a range of animals, including insects, mammals and lizards, but their diet consists mainly of birds.

Breeding

  • Like all falcons, the New Zealand falcon does not build a nest. Rather, it makes a scrape on the ground, under a rocky outcrop or in an epiphyte in an emergent forest tree into which it lays its eggs.
  • A typical clutch consists of 2–4 eggs which take about 33 days to hatch.
  • Nestlings are fed by both parents but the male does most of the hunting with the female guarding close to the nest until the nestlings are close to fledging, which occurs between 31 and 45 days after hatching.

Sound recording

Listen to or download recordings of New Zealand falcon/kārearea song.

Juvenile female New Zealand falcon/kārearea song (MP3, 721K)
45 second recording of a captive juvenile female New Zealand falcon/kārearea giving a call apparently used as warning or irritation.

Female New Zealand falcon/kārearea song (MP3, 468K)
29 second recording of a female New Zealand falcon/kārearea giving calls soliciting food from male.

Help with files: see Open and save files.
Copyright of files: Song files may be reused as long as you attribute the work to the Department of Conservation. Read our Copyright terms.

All bird song recordings

Threats

Newly hatched chicks. Photo copyright: Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust.
Chicks in ground nests are vulnerable

Threats to the New Zealand falcon are not well understood. The New Zealand falcon is listed as a threatened species by DOC due to population decline.

Predation

Although still widespread where suitable habitat exists, numbers have declined and predation by cats and hedgehogs is emerging as a problem for ground nesting falcons.

It is likely that stoats and other mustelids prey on eggs and nestlings in ground and tree nests, and rats may do the same. A recent study suggests that adult falcons are less able to defend their nest from predators that previously thought. More research is needed in this area.

Video of cat attack on falcon chicks

Still from a video of a cat attacking a NZ falcon nest.
Still from the video of a cat attack

The video shows a wild cat entering a New Zealand falcon nest. It attacks one of two chicks. The other chick stays in the nest while this is happening. The mother twice tries to drive off the cat but is unsuccessful.

This shows that falcons are not necessarily able to successfully defend the nest (at least against cats which are thought to be important predators) despite being capable predators themselves. The cat spent 10 hours in the nest and killed both chicks.

There is no sound on the video.

Loss of habitat

Forest dwelling falcons often nest in emergent rimu and other large forest trees. Continued selective logging of such trees reduced available nesting habitat.

Human impact

Like many birds of prey overseas, New Zealand falcons are also threatened by electrocution on power poles containing transformers.

Despite their fully protected status, New Zealand falcons are still shot by people, particularly when falcons occasionally kill racing pigeons or chickens.

Recently a new threat to New Zealand falcons has emerged in the form of wind farms. High mortality rates have been reported for some birds of prey at several overseas wind farms due to collision with the rotating turbine blades. The construction of wind farms in New Zealand falcon habitat may expose it to similar risks. Abandonment of traditional habitat due to wind farm construction is a possibility that needs study.

DOC's work

Attaching a radio transmitter to an adult bush falcon. Photo copyright: Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust.
Attaching a radio transmitter to an
adult bush falcon

New Zealand falcons likely benefit from the predator control done by DOC around the country.

DOC advocates for New Zealand falcon conservation through the Resource Management Act (RMA) process, in particular in the context of wind farm development.

DOC is supporting a genetic analysis to better understand any differences between Bush, Eastern and Southern falcons.

The use of falconry techniques by qualified experts is recognised by DOC as an important tool in conditioning injured or orphaned falcons for release.

Conceptual support, facilitation and permits are provided for external initiatives such as the Marlborough Falcon Conservation Trust project, release of captive bred falcons by Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust and university research.

You can help

Adult male bush falcon. Photo copyright: Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust.
Adult male bush falcon

There are several ways you can help New Zealand falcon in your area:

Support a falcon conservation organisation

Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust website
Cares for sick, injured and orphaned raptors. This includes research, captive breeding, public awareness work and rehabilitating raptors back into the wild.

Marlborough Falcon Conservation Trust website
Formed to take action to help conserve the New Zealand falcon and return it to its original range.

Control predators

Control predators (cats, hedgehogs, stoats, weasels, ferrets and rats) on your property if it has falcon nesting habitats. Eggs and nestlings are more likely to survive and there will be more food available.

Don't shoot

Don’t shoot falcons! If you are experiencing problems call your local DOC office.

Keep away from nests

Falcons defend their nests actively and may dive bomb people up to 400 m from the nest. If this occurs, simply move away until the attack stops. Don’t attempt to strike a falcon as you are likely to injure it and place it and the falcon chicks in danger.

Build the falcon fan club

Tell other people about how special falcons are so they learn to appreciate them.

back to top


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.