The Karearea, or New Zealand Falcon, Falco novaeseelandiae, is New Zealand‘s only endemic falcon and indeed, the only remaining bird of prey endemic to New Zealand. It is frequently mistaken for the larger and more common Swamp Harrier.
A member of the Falconidae bird family, the Krearea is mainly found in heavy bush and the steep high country in the South Island and is rarely seen north of a line through the central area of the North Island.
A small population also breeds on the Auckland Islands; the species is known only from the Chatham Islands from fossil remains. Although protected since 1970, it is considered to be a vulnerable species.
The Krearea is a hobby, a bird that is extremely fast and agile in flight reaching speeds of up to 200 km/h. Most of its prey is caught on the wing, and it kills with a “tooth” on its beak, unlike other Falconiformes which kill with their feet or claws.
It differs from the much larger Swamp Harrier, Circus approximans, which is common throughout New Zealand, in that it catches other birds on the wing, and seldom eats carrion. An aggressive bird that displays great violence when defending its territory, the Karearea has been reported to attack dogs as well as people.
With a wingspan of about 45 cm and weight rarely exceeding 450 g, the Karearea is slightly over half the size of the Kahu, the Swamp Harrier, which it usually attacks on sight. The male is about two-thirds the size of the female.
The Karearea features on the reverse of the New Zealand $20 note and has twice been used on New Zealand stamps. It was also featured on a collectible $5 coin in 2006.