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  Environment » Natural Resources » Water » Wetlands » Wetland plants and animals » Attracting birds

Attracting birds

New Zealand scaup (papango)The bigger and more diverse your wetland, the more diverse your birdlife will be. To encourage birds to your wetland you have to start thinking like them. What ground cover do they like? Where do they normally nest and feed?

Here are a few helpful habitat hints.

Ponds and lakes

  • New Zealand scaup like deep, open, clear water.
  • Mallards, grey ducks, shoveler, and grey teal favour shallow water around the edges of a pond or lake.
  • New Zealand dabchicks feed in deep, open water, but build their nests on floating rafts of vegetation among reeds.
  • Crakes and rails prefer shallow water and dense cover in wetlands at the edge of lakes and ponds.
  • All water fowl need open water to moult in safety, away from predators.


  • Paradise shelducks feed on pasture next to wetlands.
  • Rails, crakes, pukeko and fernbirds feed and nest around damp areas of vegetation.
  • Fernbirds prefer wetlands with dense ground cover under a selection of shrubs and small trees like manuka.
  • Spotless crakes and marsh crakes are secretive birds that feed in permanently shallow water under  a cover of dense raupo or flax. They build nests under sheltering sedges among stands of manuka. You would need less than half a hectare of this habitat to support a breeding pair of spotless crake.
  • Pied stilts feed on worms and insects in temporary winter pools in paddocks and nest in scattered clumps of rushes.
  • Tui, waxeyes and bellbirds will feed on flax and kowhai. Kereru will visit fruiting kahikatea.

All the comforts of home

As well as providing the basics (water and shelter) there are a number of ‘extras’ you can provide that will make your wetland a highly desirable home for birds.

Create gently sloping, irregular shorelines. This allows birds, particularly small waders and ducklings, easy access to and from the water and will extend the belt of reeds and rushes growing around the edge.

Logs and trees provide perching sites and shelter, however it is important to leave some gaps around the wetland for birds to fly through.

During the breeding season (September to December for most species) birds are particularly sensitive to disturbance. Grazing or other activities should stop or be reduced at this time.

Unlike most other birds, ducks and geese moult all their flight feathers at the same time. This means that when they are moulting (usually between December to February) they can’t fly and need safe places to shelter. Moulting birds are also sensitive to disturbances. 

If your wetland is near a block of native bush, or another wetland, consider linking them by planting a ‘green corridor’ of native plants between them.

Islands or a floating raft with plants growing on it, make safe nesting sites in lakes and ponds. Ducks Unlimited can offer advice on nest box designs.

Protection from pests

Possums, stoats, rats, cats, dogs, and even hedgehogs and magpies can prey on nesting birds, eggs and chicks. Consider extra pest control efforts leading up to and during the breeding season.

Want to know more?

Find out more about Ducks Unlimited New Zealand(external link) on their website.

Find out more about our native birds and hear their calls on the NZ Birds onlin(external link)e website.

Find out which plants help to attract birds in our what to plant in Waikato wetlands guide.

You can also learn more about attracting native birds and animals to your forest fragment.

Updated August 2017

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