Birds, Mana and Maori Culture

Kea - Birds, Mana and Maori Culture

Maori tribes have long held beliefs and customs about the native birds of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Birds or Nga Manu had a vital place in Maori tribal life as they provided food, beautiful feathers for adornment and their strengths and personalities were a rich source of metaphor and poetry. Their behaviour was use to predict the weather and sometimes the future.

These myths and legends come from the original migrants of Hawaiki, the original homelands in the Pacific who arrived in New Zealand in circa 1200 AD.

Piwakawaka - Birds, Mana and Maori Culture
Piwakawaka aka New Zealand Fantail Birds, Mana and Maori Culture

The stories of Maui the man-god hero throughout the Pacific were adapted by early Maori settlers to a New Zealand context. These tales recall how he sought to slay the goddess of death, Hinenuitepo.

On his journey Maui took along local New Zealand birds such as the fantail, the robin and the whitehead as friendly, lyrical companions.

Larger birds of prey like the harrier (kahu) and morepork (ruru) had other tasks in the Maori world. These powerful birds acted as messengers to the gods in the heavens. They vaulted and soared above the clouds, along spiritual tradewinds.

These bigger birds were the mediums used by tohunga (healers) to communicate with the gods. Tohunga not only helped to heal the sick in the tribe, they also applied their skills to practical methods of bird catching.

Brown creeper - Birds, Mana and Maori Culture
Brown creeper – Birds, Mana and Maori Culture

The tohunga read the signs of the sky, of the foliage, of the bird life. They oversaw the manufacture and storage of traps, lines and ladders used in hunting in the forests of Tane.

They knew that Tane was the power and origin of all tree, bird and even human life. The tohunga and other members of the tribe would create and fly Maori kites and recite the karakia or prayers to the god Tane, so that birds would be plentiful and the hunting successful.

This post is a tribute to the beautiful and vibrant birds of New Zealand that mean so much to the Maori people, my people. I’ve ordered them into a presentation of collective nouns and designed these slides for you. I hope you enjoy them!

Nga mihi

Falcon - kārearea - Birds, Mana and Maori Culture
Falcon – kārearea – Birds, Mana and Maori Culture
Haast eagle - Birds, Mana and Maori Culture
Haast eagle – Birds, Mana and Maori Culture.(now extinct. Read more about it here)


A Karakia for Turu Manu

Taku manu, Ke turua atu nei,

He Karipiripi, ke kaeaea;

Turu taku manu,

hoka taku manu,

Ki tua te haha-wai;

Koia Atutahi, koia Rehua,

Whakahoro tau tara,

Ki te Kapua, Koia E!

Kahu - Harrier Hawk- Birds, Mana and Maori Culture
Kahu – Harrier Hawk- Birds, Mana and Maori Culture

Fly away from me, my bird

glance restlessly as you dart about on high;

swoon down like the bush hawk in search of its prey.

Fly ever higher, beautiful bird

soar beyond the clouds and over the trough of the sea

Onward to Caropus, onward to Antares,

speed to the clouds like a warrior about to do battle, onward!

Kaka - Birds, Mana and Maori Culture
Kaka – Birds, Mana and Maori Culture

More about the conservation status, behaviour and biology of New Zealand birds at the Department of Conservation website

More about Maori symbolism and New Zealand native birds

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Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

5 thoughts on “Birds, Mana and Maori Culture

    1. Thanks a lot Jeremy yeah Im so glad you like it. I think my blog is a bit too niche for many people to like it. Thank you 😁


      1. Yeah I understand what you mean. There’s so much noise on the internet now that taking the time to actually find/read anything outside the normal channels is uncommon. I started a blog and am enjoying a broad readership of plus or minus 2 people. Writing everyday though seems valuable in a number of ways!


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