The New Zealand pipit, sometimes inaccurately called ground lark or native lark, is a local race (Anthus novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae) of a very widely distributed species that occurs in Australia, the East Indies, North Africa, and Europe. It breeds on almost all the islands in the New Zealand area except the Kermadecs, the Snares, and Macquarie Island. Within its range the bird is found in a variety of open-country habitats from sea level to above the snow line, and is generally to be seen in such places as sand dunes, shingly river beds, and tussock grasslands. It is one of those birds that has benefited, both in numbers and in distribution, from the progress of settlement.
Males and females look alike. The upper parts are brown, streaked with darker brown; the breast is buff and mottled with brown, and the belly is white. A dark line runs through the eye and the two outermost tail feathers are mainly white and show up clearly when the bird is in flight. Though superficially rather like the introduced skylark, the pipit is more slender in body, has a longer, finer bill, lacks any head crest, and is much paler in plumage. Behaviour is different from that of the skylark – the tail is flicked while the bird is on the ground, and the flight is usually undulating instead of the soaring and singing so characteristic of the skylark.
Breeding takes place from September to March and up to three broods may be raised by a pair in a season. About four eggs freckled with light brown and grey are laid in a well-concealed cup-shaped nest made of grass. This is placed on the ground and usually beneath growing vegetation. Incubation takes about two weeks. Small flocks may form in autumn. The pipit is mainly insectivorous, but also eats worms and small seeds. In spite of its small size the species was eaten by the old-time Maori.
In spring the male will soar and sing a short trill as he descends, but this song cannot be confused with that of the skylark. The common call is a high, slurred “tirr-eep” or “peepit” and it is from this that the species gets its common name.
by Gordon Roy Williams, B.SC.(HONS.)(SYDNEY), Lecturer in Agricultural Zoology, Lincoln Agricultural College.