Christchurch and Canterbury Wildlife

 

Imagine if you had set foot in Canterbury a thousand years ago (say, around the time of the Battle of Hastings, 1066), before humans arrived in New Zealand.  You would have witnessed a unique fauna, dominated by an extraordinary assemblage of birds which had evolved for millions of years in the absence of land mammals. Many were flightless, some were very large (including the moa, one of the largest birds ever known), while tiny wrens scuttled around the forest floor behaving much as rats and mice do elsewhere in the world. 

Humans, both Maori and European colonisers, have put paid to much of that.  Hunting, habitat destruction and the introduction of mammals such as rats, stoats and possums, has seen many native bird species go extinct, or become scarce. 

 

 

Forest wildlife

 

You should still see plenty of native birds on your visit to Canterbury and elsewhere in New Zealand.  In the forest, look out for fantails, robins and tomtits, which often approach closely when humans pass by, disturbing insects. Listen out for the trill of the grey warbler, or the melodious call of the bellbird and tui.  The largest forest bird that you are likely to see is the kereru or wood pigeon, which can sometimes even be seen in Christchurch city.  The nearest wild kiwi to Christchurch are at Arthur's Pass, where they can sometimes be heard calling at night.  You are very unlikely to see a kiwi in the wild in New Zealand - your best chance is in an enclosure at a zoo or wildlife attraction.

Native geckos and skinks are also often seen in forests and open country.

Introduced mammals are common in New Zealand's forests.  These include deer, pigs, stoats, hedgehogs and rats.  At night you have a good chance of seeing Australian possums. 

 

 

Open country wildlife

 

In open country, you may see the NZ falcon, or the Australasian harrier - you are most likely to see the latter snacking on road kill.  In alpine areas of the South Island, including Arthur's Pass, look out for NZ's alpine parrot, the kea.  It is a very charismatic, intelligent and rather mischievous bird.

In open country and in cities, European visitors will see many familiar birds which have been introduced to New Zealand:  sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes, starlings, finches, skylarks and many others.

Rabbits and hares are commonly seen - another unfortunate animal introduction to New Zealand.

 

 

Coastal and marine wildlife

 

The coasts and estuaries in Canterbury have a wide range of birdlife, including gulls, terns, shags, cormorants, stilts, herons and oystercatchers.  There are also various migratory waders, most famously the eastern bar-tailed godwit which migrates all the way to northern Alaska to breed in the northern summer. 

White-flippered penguins (and rarely, the yellow-eyed penguin - this is better seen further south) also roost in some places on the Canterbury coast.  They may sometimes be seen in the water during the Akaroa harbour cruise.

New Zealand fur seals are often seen basking on the coast of Banks Peninsula, but are more common on the Kaikoura coast, further north.  Occasionally sea lions and even sea elephants are seen.

The highest profile animal in Canterbury waters is the rare Hector's Dolphin, the world's smallest marine dolphin.  They are an inshore, coastal species, and are usually seen during the Akaroa harbour cruise.  North of Christchurch, off the Kaikoura coast, pods of hundreds of dusky dolphins can often be seen on dolphin cruises. 

Migrating whales are occasionally seen off the Canterbury coast.  The best place to see whales is at Kaikoura, where sperm whales can be viewed from whale-watching cruises. 

 

 

 

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