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Bird Definitives

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New Zealand's birds make for absorbing study. Many species are found nowhere else in the world. Others belonging to international families have developed unique characteristics because of long isolation from other land masses. Over millions of years some lost the power of flight because of the absence of predators.

Issue information

About 300 species of birds breed in the New Zealand region or visit regularly. The number of endemic land species is surprisingly low and few such birds are brightly coloured. Dark plumage is predominant.

A number of birds have become extinct since the arrival of humans to these islands and a depressingly large roll call still figures on lists of endangered, threatened or rare species.

New Zealand is home to some extraordinary birds, among them the flightless kiwi that roams the forest at night, searching the ground for food with its long beak. It is so famous it has become the symbol of New Zealand and features in this set of definitive bird stamps. Most of the other birds in the series are unique to New Zealand, birds that are an integral part of the New Zealand environment.

Product listing for Bird Definitives

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Image Title Description Price
Single Stamp

Spotless Crake (Porzana tabuensis) - 5c

Rarely seen because it is such wary bird, the slate and brown coloured spotless crake, known to the Maori as puweto, makes its home in swamps and marshy areas.
Issued 1 July 1991 as a result of a change in postage rates.

Single Stamp

Banded Dotterel (Charadrius bicinctus) - 10c

This handsome little bird is named for the bands across its white breast. The banded dotterel, or tuturiwhatu in Maori, is a member of the plover family and is one of five endemic to the New Zealand region, meaning that these species are found here and nowhere else. All five are under threat. The Auckland Island banded dotterel and the New Zealand shore plover are on the Department of Conservation's list of 23 endangered birds, and the wrybill, banded dotterel and New Zealand dotterel are on the threatened or vulnerable register. The banded dotterel is the commonest of the five and is still abundant in some areas. The female normally lays three eggs and incubation is 25 to 27 days. The eggs, blotched dark brown or black, vary in colour to match the nest area as a means of camouflage.
Issued 2 November 1988.

Single Stamp

Yellowhead (Mohoua ochrocephata) - 20c

The alternative name "bush canary" describes the yellowhead perfectly.  It looks like a canary with its bright yellow head, breast and tail, and sings strongly with a loud penetrating call.  Elusive birds, yellowheads are not easily seen because they are most at home on the high branches of native forest, preferably beech.  But yellowheads, like their close relatives the whiteheads, are sociable enough among themselves, congregating in small families or large flocks in summer and winter.  Yellowheads, or mohua in Maori, were once widespread but have declined sharply in numbers as their habitat has shrunk and are on the threatened list.  The birds also fall victim to stoats and rats which climb trees to attack nests and yellowheads are one of the targets of long-tailed cuckoos.
Issued 2 November 1988.

Single Stamp

Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) - 30c

This bird takes its name, naturally enough, from the small white feathers that ring its eyes. Some people call it the waxeye or white-eye and earlier it was known as the blightbird because it fed on insects attacking and blighting apple trees. Widely spread in Australia, the silvereye, or tauhou in Maori, reached New Zealand about 150 years ago flying the Tasman with the aid of the westerly winds, an astonishing feat for such a small bird. Its green, grey and white plumage, quick darting flight and small size are now a common sight in New Zealand and the bird is present in thousands. The birds build delicate nests and hang them from small branches. The female lays three pale blue eggs which hatch in 11 days.
Issued 2 November 1988

Single Stamp

Brown Kiwi (North Island Brown Kiwi: Apteryx mantelli, Southern Brown (Tokoeka) kiwi: Apteryx australis) - 40c_a

The kiwi is nocturnal and cannot fly. It hides during the day, coming out only at night to forage for worms and insect food on the forest floor. The bird is stocky and cone-shaped without wings or tail. It has loosely-attached hair-like feathers giving it a shaggy look. The young are born with the same plumage. The kiwi has a small head and an incredibly long beak with nostrils at the tip. It is the only bird in the world with external nostrils in such a place. The kiwi also has an acutely developed sense of smell. The kiwi's muscular legs can deliver a powerful kick and account for a third of its total weight. New Zealand has three kinds of kiwi: the brown, little spotted and great spotted. The brown has two sub-species: the North Island and the Southern (Tokoeka). One of the most remarkable features of the kiwi is the size of its egg, the largest in the bird world in proportion to the size of the female.
Issued 2 November 1988

This stamps was reissued in a self-adhesive format on 17 April 1991.

Single Stamp

Rock Wren (Xenicus gilviventris) - 45c_a

The small, friendly rock wren is an alpine bird, even in winter, and lives a mouse-like existence in crevices and air pockets between and under jumbled rocks and scrub.
Issued 1 July 1991 as the result of a change in postage rates, in both gummed and self-adhesive format.

Single Stamp

Kingfisher (Halcyon sancta) - 50c

The endemic kingfisher, is a handsome bird with lustrous green and ultramarine plumage, brilliant in flight. But it has a wickedly large beak and a sinister looking eye and some of its habits do not bear close examination. The bird is widespread in New Zealand in a variety of habitat with the population densest in the northern part of the North Island. Kingfishers are most frequently seen perched motionless, except for upward and downward flicking of the tail feathers, on telephone and power lines, posts, fences and branches watching for prey. Kingfishers swallow their food whole, regurgitating indigestible parts later. Larger prey is bashed to death against a perch before eating. Kingfishers lay four or five white eggs and normally raise only one family a season.
Issued 2 November 1988

Single Stamp

Spotted Shag (Stictocarbo punctatus) - 60c

The spotted shag, called by maori parekareka, is only one of a good number of endemic shags. As the breeding season starts both sexes sprout two black crests, one on the forehead and the other on the nape. They also produce scatterings of long white plumes over the head and upper parts. During elaborate courtship rituals the birds hold their crests erect. As well as the fancy feathers, the spotted shag's brown eye is ringed with blue and a large green surrounding patch is evident too. Back and tail are dark blue, offset by a grey breast and belly. The wings are grey-brown. The black spots which give this species its name are on the tops of the upper wing coverts.
Issued 2 November 1988

Single Stamp

Paradise Shelduck (Tadorna variegata) - 70c

There is no mistaking a female paradise shelduck. She is much prettier than the male. It is normally the other way round in the bird world if there are differences between male and female. Both sexes of the paradise shelduck, or putangitangi in Maori, have attractive sheeny plumage but the female is a striking chestnut with white head and neck while her mate's head is black and his body browny-black with tawny tints. The endemic paradise shelduck is widespread throughout New Zealand today except in a few areas. Large populations are concentrated in some parts of the country and nationally there are said to be at least 130,000. Paradise shelducks begin to breed in their second or third year and apparently mate for life.
Issued 7 June 1988.

Single Stamp

Fiordland Crested Penguin (Eudytes pachyrhynchus) - 80c_a

Three species of crested penguins are endemic to New Zealand but only one, the Fiordland crested, nests on the mainland. The other two, the Snares crested and the Erect-crested breed on New Zealand's sub-Antarctic islands. Of the three the Fiordland crested is the most vulnerable today. Where the other two breed in colonies of thousands, the Fiordland bird is listed by the Department of Conservation as rare.
Issued 2 November 1988.

Single Stamp

New Zealand Falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae) - 80c_b

Like falcons worldwide, the New Zealand bird flies superbly but differs form most other species in having short wings and a long tail. It is a forest dweller too. The maori name for the bird is karearea.

Initially the stamp was issued in booklets of ten 80c stamps on 31 March 1993, followed by later release in sheet format.

Single Stamp

Robin (Petroica australis) - 90c

This bird is not related to Britain's Christmas card robin but their looks and habits reminded early British settlers of their favourite bird and the name stuck. The New Zealand varieties are grey and white with yellow and brown tinges. And then, of course, there is the black or Chatham Island robin (Petroica traversi) which conservationists have struggled, successfully, to save from extinction. The black robin apart, there are three species of endemic robins in New Zealand - the North Island robin, South Island robin and Stewart Island robin.
Issued 2 November 1998.

Single Stamp

Brown Kiwi Self-Adhesive - 40c b

New Zealand Post unveiled a 'new technology' stamp in April 1991 with the issue of a self-adhesive 40c stamps in coils of 100. The stamp design was almost identical to the 40c brown kiwi stamp from the definitive set in use at the time. The coils were all produced by Australia Post-Sprintpak.
Issued 17 April 1991

Single Stamp

Rock Wren Self-Adhesive - 45c -b

The design of the self-adhesive stamp was changed in November 1991 due to a change in the postage rate. The new design reproduced the 45c 'rock wren' stamp from the definitive stamp set of the time.
An initial supply of 110,200 coils were produced by Australia Post-Sprintpak, remaining quantities were produced by Leigh-Mardon.

Apart from slight colour differences the Australia Post-Sprintpak stamps have 'rounded' die-cut corners as opposed to the Leigh-Mardon variety that have 'pointed' die-cut corners.
Issued 1 July 1991.


Philakorea Birds Sheetlet - $2.60

A sheetlet incorporating eight bird definitive stamps was produced to celebrate the 1994 Philakorea World Stamp Exhibition held 16-25 August 1994 in Seoul, a city that was celebrating its 600th anniversary as Korea's capital.
Issued 16 August 1994.


Technical information

Date of issue: 7 June 1988 (40c Brown Kiwi self-adhesive version issued 17 April 1991; 5c and 45c issued 1 July 1991)
Designer: Pauline Morse, Pukerua Bay
Printers: Leigh-Mardon, Australia; 40c and 45c self adhesive stamp: Australia Post-Sprintpak
Stamp size: 25mm x 30mm
Sheet size:  100 stamps per sheet; coils of 100 stamps (40c and 45c); Booklets each containing ten 40c, 45c, 70c, 80c (penguin) and 80c (falcon) stamps; Sheetlets of ten 40c stamps; exhibition miniature sheet of one 70c stamp; exhibition sheetlet of eight stamps
Process: Lithography
Perforation gauge: 14.25 x 14; One printing of 20c: 13.5; One printing of 40c: 13.5 x 13.25; Self Adhesives : Die cut perforations
Paper type: Red phosphor coated, unwatermarked; Leigh-Mardon Coils: Fasson self-adhesive; Australia Post-Sprintpak Coils: JAC self-adhesive, red phosphor coated, unwatermarked
Period of sale: This stamps remained on sale until 7 June 1989.
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