When the first settlers arrived from Britain they brought animals and birds that reminded them of the old country and provided food and sport. There were native quail in New Zealand but they were rare and were hunted to extinction by 1870.
Hunting game birds dates back to Captain Cook's arrival in 1769 when his crew shot many birds for food. Among native birds hunted by Maori and early Europeans were ducks, pigeons and godwits, which were favourites of Maori.
Today, native birds are protected but some can be hunted during the game bird season, including grey duck, shoveler, paradise shelduck, black swan and pukeko.
The first ships that brought the settlers who established Christchurch carried pheasants, and the Governor and later Prime Minister, Sir George Grey, was an enthusiastic importer of wildlife species. He introduced Californian quail, which were liberated around Nelson in 1865. They spread so rapidly that by 1890 large numbers were being preserved and shipped to London.
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Today, Californian quail, also known in the United States as valley quail, are found throughout the country, but are most common in dry areas such as Central Otago, Poverty Bay, Hawkes Bay and Northland. Two other quail species are still found in parts of the country. Australian brown quail were introduced in the 1860s, but are common only in the Bay of Plenty and Northland today. The American bobwhite quail was less successful and is found only in South Auckland and northern Hawkes Bay. Quail are gregarious and live in colonies, which may number several hundred.
Introduced ducks and geese have fared much better than native species, which are less adaptable and whose populations suffered from the draining of swamps to create pasture. The Auckland Acclimatisation Society introduced mallard ducks from North America, and they have spread throughout the country. These ducks are commonly seen in city parks, and they happily live alongside urban populations.
The groups of early sportsmen who got together to bring the birds, fish and animals to the new country were called acclimatisation societies and they were highly successful with most of their attempts. Some birds that were tried but did not survive include snipe, grouse, ptarmigan and various quails and pigeons. What these settlers did ensure was that privilege and money could not control the sports of bird shooting, hunting deer and rabbits and fishing for trout and salmon as they do in Europe. The early rules governing the sport precluded charging for rights to hunt and fish, and this culture prevails today. Nobody can own a river or stream in terms of the fishing, and while access across private land is subject to normal trespass laws, the birds and fish cannot belong to individuals.
Today, the Fish and Game system comprising elected councils is responsible for managing bird shooting and trout and salmon fishing.
Canada geese have become the subject of much controversy in this country. They were introduced in the early 1900s, a gift from American President Theodore Roosevelt. While highly valued in North America, in this country their numbers escalated and after pressure from South Island farmers the Minister of Conservation recently changed their status.
This reclassified Canadas as pests so they can be killed by any means at any time. Sportsmen are not happy with the change, but farmers do suffer damage to pastures and crops from large numbers of the birds, and since the change in status, culls of up to 18,000 birds have taken place. This is usually done when the birds are moulting and cannot fly, so they can be rounded up and killed.