With its lush, emerald forests and towering peaks, waterfall-laden fjords and white-sand beaches, New Zealand is undoubtedly an island paradise. And for 60 million years, birds ruled it all. The relatively late arrival of humans and lack of ground mammals allowed native creatures to thrive in isolation, and if there were to be an award for the most evolutionary liberties, it would likely go to the birds. Of the more than 200 bird species that presently breed in New Zealand, nearly half are endemic—like the iconic kiwi—and another third are native, though they also breed elsewhere. 

Many of the most unique populations are endangered, but enduring as local conservation efforts work to keep these special species alive and thriving for centuries to come. Read on to discover some of New Zealand’s most delightful feathered fauna including one of the world’s largest flying birds, smallest penguins, and a flightless owl-parrot.