Our little spitfire...

01:30, Aug 13 2012

We love our falcons in New Zealand, and I'm not just talking about the cars...

While all sorts of land-speed records were challenged, broken and contested last week during the Olympics, the human speeds simply pale in comparison to one of our endangered birds of prey.

The native falcon or karearea is the cheetah of the New Zealand bird fauna, reaching speeds of up to 200kmh - only a bit slower than the world's fastest, the peregrine falcon, which can reach upwards of 240kmh (making it the Usain Bolt of the animal kingdom!).

There are three variants of falcons: the small, dark bush falcons of the North Island, and in southwestern habitats as far down as Greymouth; the paler eastern falcons found in large areas of the South Island, especially east of the Southern Alps; and the southern falcons found in Fiordland, Stewart Island and, yes, even the Auckland Islands.

New Zealand falcon/Karearea (Picture: Craig McKenzie)

Karearea are simply amazing little hunters. The girl falcons are bigger than the boy falcons and can catch and eat different prey as a result (a female falcon has no hassles with a rabbit). Regardless of their size disparity, all falcons can take down animals larger than themselves. Falcons have been quite adaptable, and can exist in all kinds of habitats including pine forests. Sadly there are only a few thousand left. Where they suffer is where there are predators (because they are ground nesters), and sadly where there are people - who don't perhaps understand how lucky we are to have this amazing aerial predator in New Zealand - and who intentionally harm them (often by shooting).

However, there are some pretty amazing people in New Zealand who have dedicated their lives to protecting our birds of prey, educating the public about how special they are and rehabilitating injured birds. Hats off to the team at Wingspan, who turn 20 this year! This incredible endeavour has been a labour of love for Noel Hyde and Debbie Stewart and the team, and I have to say for anyone visiting Rotorua, a trip to Wingspan to watch the falcons fly is not to be missed. Happy Birthday guys!  If you want to know more about falcons, falconry and how they rehabilitate these amazing birds, I'll leave it to Noel and Debbie to explain it...

So, have you heard the distinctive "kek-kek-kek!" of a karearea? Whereabouts? Anyone else been to Wingspan?