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. Recently, plantation pine forests have been found to be important breeding habitats for falcons.
The small dark ‘Bush’ falcons live in forests. They are found in the North Island, mainly south of Hamilton; and 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.
The New Zealand falcon is capable of flying at speeds over 100 km/h, and can catch prey larger than itself. They 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. Their diet includes a range of animals, including insects, mammals and lizards, but consists mainly of birds.
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.
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 illegally 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.
Look out for our Kārearea stickers on 200g coffee packs in South Island supermarkets. 20c donated to Forest and Bird to help protect threatened species in the Catlins.