New Zealand lark

Living at the farm in the Waiotahe Valley, I never saw pipits and skylarks and so always had great difficulty in distinguishing the two. The falcons in the Valley probably wiped them out. But here, overlooking Ohiwa Harbour, pipits, or New Zealand larks as the early observers of the bird called them, spend a lot of time on my lawn around the house which has allowed me to observe them at close quarters.

The pipit and the skylark both have drab plumage to provide camouflage on the ground but the pipit is grey rather than buff coloured and has a distinctive white eyebrow. The skylark has a tuft or crest on its head whilst the pipit has a habit of flicking its tail when it walks. It is also a much bolder bird and has the typical characteristic of our endemics in that it seems unafraid of humans, whereas the skylark keeps its distance from the house. Also the pipit loves to bathe in the bird bath, splashing about as enthusiastically as any thrush but the skylark never bathes it seems. The skylark’s most striking feature, and the one that gives the birds its name, is its song in flight with which the pipit cannot compare. Its call is quite harsh in comparison.

The pipit feeds almost exclusively on insects and small invertebrates and this exclusive diet may be the reason why the pipit’s numbers have declined in favour of the skylark with the increasing use of pesticides on farms. The skylark is more of a seed eater.

The breeding habits of the birds are similar, with some pairs remaining on their territory all year and breeding together year after year. The females build the nest which is a neat grass lined cup in a small depression in the ground, often concealed by an overhanging clump of grass.

The eggs are off–white, speckled or blotched with brown. Both parents share the task of feeding the nestlings which leave the nest after about ten days, or more with the pipit.

The pipit was first identified for the scientific record at Queen Charlotte Sound during Captain James Cook’s second voyage by Forster, where it was noticed on the seashore feeding on small crustacea among the seaweed caste up by the waves. Latham, using Forster’s drawing, described the “New Zealand lark” in his General Synopsis of Birds, 1795.

Buller writes that they were always plentiful on settler’s farms and that they may be seen during the summer months perched in large parties on the roofs of country houses.

“They love to resort to the roads and beaten paths, where they amuse the traveller by their playfulness, running before him as he advances, then rising in the air with a sharp but pleasant chirp, settling down again and running forward as before, and continually flirting the tail upwards.”

He also reported that it was amusing to watch them at the commencement of the breeding season, “each one alternately springing up in the air, with expanded wings and tail, and curvetting over the other in the most playful manner.”

NZ pipit and fernbird
Sub Species:
vealeae, punctata, stewartiana, wilsoni, caudata.

Other common names:  — 

New Zealand lark.

Description:  — 

Endemic bird

19 cm., 40 g., Like skylark, including white outer tail feathers but more slender. Head and upperparts brown, streaked darker, white eyebrow.

Where to find:  — 

Anthus novaeseelandiae vealeae found north from Manawatu Estuary, Great Barrier and Alderman Islands. Anthus novaeseelandiae punctata are common west of the Southern Alps. Anthus novaeseelandiae stewartiana on Stewart Island, wilsoni, on Codfish Island, and caudata on Snares Island.

Illustration description: — 


Latham, John, General Synopsis of Birds, 1795.

Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1888.

Reference(s): — 


Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Oliver, W.R.B. New Zealand Birds, 1955.

Page date & version: — 


Thursday, 29 May 2014; ver2009v1


©  2005    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.