Battle of the backyard birds


Ned Barraud has been illustrating children’s book since 2000, after studying art at Victoria Univeristy, He has illustrated seven books in the highly successful ‘Explore and Discover’ series about different ecosystems in New Zealand, and five books other than his own. His new books Backyard Birds and Incredible Journeys: New Zealand Wildlife on the Move are out in bookstores this November.

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It’s New Zealand’s most contentious election. As Bird of the Year comes to a close, Illustrator Ned Barraud runs us through his five favourite backyard birds.


I love blackbirds. They are always in my garden, watching every move. Males are jet black with bright orange beaks and orange rings around their beady eyes. Females are brown with a lighter chest – easy to confuse with a thrush, but thrushes have black dots on their front. They are keen, opportunistic omnivores and will share a meal of scraps with my backyard chickens, or boldly hop toward the veggie patch when I turn it over. They hover nearby until they spy a juicy looking grub or worm, then swoop in for the kill.


Being so close to Zealandia, everyone in Karori is familiar with these handsome parrots. A flock has taken up residence in a nearby group of Old Man Pines. I’m pretty sure they are now nesting there. There seems to be constant movement between here and the sanctuary where they return for a free meal at the feeders. I love hearing them flying around croaking and whistling in a “parrotish” manner, even in the middle of the night, and especially when there’s a full moon.


What would a park or a school field be without a pair of magpies loitering close by, strutting and swaggering about like they own the place. You hear the rumours of kamikaze magpies which divebomb unfortunate pedestrians. I’ve yet to see this behavior; maybe they aren’t so territorial in this part of the country. Like their cousins – crows, rooks, ravens – they are shrewd and cunning. Unlike their cousins they have a remarkable voice. “Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle,” the magpies said.


Karori seems to be a Ruru hotspot, their “more-pork” calls echoing around the valley. Last year we had a boisterous male in the holly tree out the front. It was calling so loudly it woke me up. I went outside and stood right underneath it. It was unafraid and kept calling. They have quite a collection of different calls, not just the typical “more-pork”. After a while a female flew in, silently. All owls have serrated flight feathers which dulls the sound of their wing beats, making them noiseless night hunters.

Californian Quail

I often surprise a flock (or “covey”) of quails as I run in the hills close to home. It’s quite startling when they all suddenly take off in alarm. They have short wings and aren’t great fliers: their wing beats make a real racket! From our house you can hear the males calling in a trumpeting manner. They are saying, “This is my territory, clear off”. The male always keeps a close eye on his females and chicks, standing guard on some elevated vantage point.

We have a copy of Backyard Birds to giveaway. Enter your details below to be in to win. Winner will be notified 8 November.

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