Hihi volunteer needed

Date posted: 18-Oct-2018

Would you like to volunteer with the Island's hihi team and learn from them how ..

2019 Calendars now available

Date posted: 05-Sep-2018

The new 2019 calendars are now available and this year's is better than ever! Th..

Winners of kokako photo competition

Date posted: 02-Sep-2018

The stunning winning photographs from those submitted to the competition as part..

Kokako Celebration

Date posted: 21-Jul-2018


Kokako Photographic Competition

Date posted: 20-Jul-2018

KĊŒKAKO PHOTOGRAPHIC COMPETITION Celebrating 21 years on Tiritiri Matangi To ce..

New monitoring reports published

Date posted: 19-Jul-2018

Reports on monitoring studies carried out over the past year have now been poste..

2018 Concert coming up soon

Date posted: 15-Feb-2018

Our 2018 concert will feature an afternoon of light classics and jazz courtesy of the Auckland Ph..

Wetapunga talk coming soon

Date posted: 05-Feb-2018

For the Social on 19 March the speaker will be Ben Goodwin of Auckland Zoo, who will talk about t..

Rat caught and now takahe released from pens

Date posted: 28-Jan-2018

Thankfully DOC staff Andre de Graaf and Polly Hall and their assistants have trapped the rat whic..

Your Christmas Shopping for a Song

Date posted: 04-Dec-2017

Aka - The Grand Christmas Shopping Expedition to Tiritiri Matangi Island Shop Dreading..

Australasian Harrier

Scientific name:

 Circus approximans 

Maori Name:




Conservation status

 Native. Not threatened

Mainland status:

 Widespread and locally common


 55cm, 650g (males) 850g (females)


 Oldest recorded in NZ: 18 years


 September - December


 Carrion and live prey

The Australasian harrier, known as the swamp harrier in Australia, is a large brown raptor with long fingered wings held in a v-shape, and a long slightly rounded tail. The very dark brown juvenile has a prominent white patch on the back of the head, brown upper tail and brown eye. The adult has a distinctive pale facial disc with head and upperparts dark brown. Underparts are reddish brown streaked dark brown and underwings are barred at the tips. The light brown tail is barred dark brown and the upper tail is white. Males have a yellow eye and the females a pale yellow eye. As they become paler with age some very old males can be seen with frosty-grey upperparts, pale buff underparts and white underwings.

Harriers are usually silent except for an occasional whistle, but in the breeding season during display flights the male utters a high–pitched ‘kee-a’, to which the female responds with a ‘kee-o’.

Harriers hunt by day, either by slowly quartering the ground or by hovering and then dropping vertically to catch their prey in their sharp  talons. They eat carrion (sheep, possums, hedgehogs, waterfowl and other game birds) as well as catching live prey (mainly small mammals, especially rabbits, hares, hedgehogs, rats, mice, birds, ducks and eggs, frogs, fish, lizards and large invertebrates such as grasshoppers and crickets).

Breeding is between September and February. The bulky nest of sticks, bracken, manuka, grasses and rushes is usually sited on the ground in raupo swamps, bracken-fern, clumps of pampas or on road verges. Over a period of days 3–5 off-white eggs are laid and incubated by the female for 31–34 days. The eggs hatch over a few days, and the youngest chicks often don’t survive. Although the male gathers food for the female and chicks, only she feeds the chicks. They fledge at 43–46 days old and finally disperse about seven weeks after fledging.

It is not unusual to see harriers soaring over Tiritiri Matangi in search of prey. They have large territorial ranges and frequently visit from the mainland. They have been known to take brown teal/pateke and kokako. Harriers only take prey that is on the ground, on a pond or in a tree, so a bird’s best way of escaping a harrier’s talons is to take flight. Flocks of birds have been observed mobbing harriers as they hunt and occasionally are successful in chasing them out of an area.

Learn more about the Australasian harrier at New Zealand Birds Online.

Photography by Max McRae ©

References: Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 2000 The Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. Auckland, Viking. Moon, G The Reed Field Guide to New Zealand Birds.