The Banknote Birds

Whio with 3 ducklings
© Nina Fowler
Fascinating Facts

The current species of birds featured were introduced in 1991, when the Reserve Bank of New Zealand completely redesigned the banknotes to give them a distinctly New Zealand feel.

The notes have been slightly updated twice since, mostly to add more security features and make them brighter, but the basic images remain the same. 

New Zealand coins also feature native birds - the $1 coin features the kiwi (Apteryx spp) and the $2 coin the kotuku or white heron (Egretta alba modesta).


Let's meet the banknote birds. 

© Lou Sanson / WWF


The hoiho or yellow-eyed penguin features on the orange $5 note. The Māori name, meaning 'noise shouter', referring to their call. While the English name refers to the distinctive yellow stripe around their eye. Their scientific name is Megadyptes antipodes.

Found only in New Zealand there are two populations, one on the southeast coast of the South Island and Rakiura / Stewart Island and the other on the subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands. 

Their conservation status is Threatened–Nationally Endangered. 

© David Lawson / WWF-UK


The whio or blue duck features on the blue $10 note. Like the penguin, their Māori name refers to their call and the English their blue-grey feathers. Their scientific name is Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos.

Endemic to New Zealand, they are found on the North and South Islands. Living by clear fast-flowing rivers, mostly confined to high altitude segments of rivers in mountain regions.

Their conservation status is Threatened–Nationally Vulnerable.

© Shutterstock / Lakeview Images


The kārearea or New Zealand falcon features on the green $20 note.  There are three recognised forms - Southern, Eastern and Bush. Their scientific name is Falco novaeseelandiae. 

While species of falcons are found worldwide, the kārearea is unique to New Zealand. Widespread, they are found on both the North and South Islands as well as some offshore islands. 

All three forms of New Zealand falcon are Threatened. However, the small dark ‘Bush’ falcons which live in forests are classed as Increasing having adapted to breed in pine plantations.

© Matt Binns


The kōkako, noted for its distinctive blue wattle and haunting call (from which it gets its name), features on the purple $50 note. Their scientific name is Callaeas wilsoni.

Found only on the North Island.  The South Island kōkako, a related but distinct species, is believed to be extinct.

While all mainland North Island populations are found only in areas with ongoing pest control, populations on offshore islands, particularly Te Hauturu-ō-Toi/Little Barrier Island are doing well. Their conservation status has been changed to Nationally Increasing.

© Mark Anderson


The mohua or yellowhead, a forest dwelling, insect eating bird, features on the pink $100 note. Sometimes call a bush a canary because of its small size and conspicuous yellow head and chest. Their scientific name is Mohoua ochrocephala.

Found only on the South Island and Rakiura / Stewart Island, the once common birds are now confined to a few small isolated populations primarily in beech forests. 

Their conservation status is At risk – Declining. While deforestation caused significant loss of habitat in the past, introduced predators and competitors for food like wasps, are now the main threat to the mohua.