Marine Birdlife

Marine birds obtain all or nearly all of their food from the sea. New Zealand can rightfully claim to be the world's seabird capital. The favourable environment is a result of New Zealand's rich marine environment.

Coastal Common Population Species

Little Penguin


Eudyptula minor

Image of Little Penguin

 Food: Little Penguins diet is composed of varying proportions of small shoaling fish, squid and crustacean species.

 Habitat: Little Penguins are widely distributed along the coastlines. Little Penguins are mainly found within 25 km off the shore. Little Penguins are found close to the sea in burrows, caves and rocky ridges.

 Predators: Many colonies are in decline due to predation by introduced predators including cats, dogs and ferrets.

Variable Oystercatcher

Tōrea pango

Haematopus unicolor

Image of Variable Oystercatcher

 Food: Variable Oystercatchers eat a wide range of littoral invertebrates, including molluscs, crustaceans and annelids. They occasionally take small fish.

 Habitat: Variable Oystercatchers will use a wide variety of coastal habitat types, including shell banks, rocky shorelines and less often gravel beaches. Variable Oystercatchers are not usually seen far from the coast.

 Predators: Breeding success of Variable Oystercatchers is often low with main causes of failure being predation of eggs and chicks by a range of mammalian and avian predators. Adults are occasionally killed by cats and stoats.

Some of the other coastal common population species are:

Coastal Uncommon Population Species

New Zealand King Shag


Leucocarbo carunculatus

Image of New Zealand King Shag

 Food: King Shags are deep divers, feeding on bottom-dwelling fish species at depths of 20-50 mtrs.

 Habitat: King Shag are restricted to the outer Marlborough Sounds. King Shags breed on low rock plateaus, steep rock faces or rocky ridges.

 Predators: The restricted distribution and small population size of King Shags means that a single adverse event, such as an oil spill, could impact on most of the population.

Caspian Tern


Hydroprogne caspia

Image of Caspian Tern

 Food: Caspian terns feed mostly on small surface-swimming fish such as yellow-eyed mullet, piper, and smelt. They also feed on crickets and marine worms caught by probing in soft mud and wading in shallow water.

 Habitat: In New Zealand, Caspian terns frequent sheltered bays and harbours of the main islands, but are also seen regularly at inland lakes and rivers.

 Predators: Caspian terns are susceptible to nest disturbance by people, their dogs, and off-road vehicles. Chicks and eggs are vulnerable to predation by cats, stoats and ferrets.

Some of the other coastal uncommon population species are:

Coastal & Pelagic Species

Pelagic Common Population Species

Fairy Prion

Tītī wainui

Pachyptila turtur

Image of Fairy Prion

 Food: Fairy Prions mainly eat small pelagic crustaceans, along with small fish and squid. Small krill species is the predominant species eaten in New Zealand, followed by pelagic amphipods and copepods.

 Habitat: Fairy Prions breed on island rock stacks and cliff ledges. They are most often seen over the open sea near breeding colonies, and rarely enter sheltered coastal waters.

 Predators: Fairy Prions have been extirpated from the mainland by introduced predators. Their main natural predators are sub-antarctic skuas and swamp harriers.

White-capped Mollymawk


Thalassarche cauta

Image of White-capped Mollymawk

 Food: White-capped Mollymawks mainly eat fish, squid, krill, salps and offal from fishing vessels taken from the surface. They rarely plunge or dive for food.

 Habitat: During the breeding season (November-June) White-capped Mollymawks occur throughout coastal New Zealand. After breeding most birds remain in Australasian waters.

 Predators: Feral pigs and cats have restricted successful breeding of White-capped Mollymawk chicks. Fisheries bycatch is the main threat to adult White-capped Mollymawks. It was the most common species observed killed in mayor New Zealand trawl fisheries.

Some of the other pelagic common population species are:




Little penguin. Adult walking. Warrington Beach Otago, December 2006. Image © Craig McKenzie by Craig McKenzie.

Variable oystercatcher. Pied morph adult. Northland, January 2008. Image © Peter Reese by Peter Reese.

New Zealand king shag. Adult on rocks. Marlborough Sounds, January 2009. Image © Duncan Watson by Duncan Watson.

Caspian tern. Adult in breeding plumage. Wanganui, August 2012. Image © Ormond Torr by Ormond Torr.

Fairy prion. 8 July 2012. Image © Craig McKenzie by Craig McKenzie.

White-capped mollymawk. Subadult on water. Kaikoura pelagic, January 2013. Image © Colin Miskelly by Colin Miskelly.

Banner Images

View of the two peninsulas, November 2015. Image © Jo Cowin by Jo Cowin.

Spotted Shags, April 2014. Image © Craig Mckenzie by Craig Mckenzie.

White Fronted Tern Chick, January 2010. Image © Craig Mckenzie by Craig Mckenzie.

Southern Rata, February 2008. Image © Craig Mckenzie by Craig Mckenzie.

Wood Pigeon, November 2008. Image © Craig Mckenzie by Craig Mckenzie.

New Zealand Robin, April 2012. Image © Craig Mckenzie by Craig Mckenzie.

Tree Fern, July 2009. Image © Craig Mckenzie by Craig Mckenzie.

All images have been reproduced with permission from the creator.