New Caledonia

Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus ©Dubi Shapiro Website
Birding New Caledonia

New Caledonia, is a “sui generis collectivity” (in practice an overseas territory) of France, made up of a main island (Grande Terre), the Loyalty Islands, and several smaller islands. It is located in the region of Melanesia in the southwest Pacific. At about half the size of Taiwan, it has a land area of 18,575.5 square kilometres (7,172 sq mi). The population was 244,600 inhabitants as of January 2008 official estimates. The capital and largest city of the territory is Nouméa. The currency is the CFP franc.

New Caledonia is located around 21°30′S 165°30′E in the southwest Pacific Ocean, approximately 1,200 kilometres (746 mi) east of Australia and 1,500 kilometres (932 mi) northwest of New Zealand. The island nation of Vanuatu lies to the northeast. It is made up of a main island, the Grande Terre, and several smaller islands, the Belep archipelago to the north of the Grande Terre, the Loyalty Islands to the east of the Grande Terre, the Île des Pins (Isle of Pines) to the south of the Grande Terre, the Chesterfield Islands and Bellona Reefs further to the west.The Grande Terre is by far the largest of the islands, and the only mountainous island. It has an area of 16,372 square kilometres (6,321 sq mi), and is elongated northwest-southeast, 350 kilometres (217 mi) in length and 50 to 70 kilometres (31–44 mi) wide. A mountain range runs the length of the island, with five peaks over 1,500 meters (4,900 ft). The highest point is Mont Panié at 1,628 meters (5,341 ft) elevation. The total area of New Caledonia is 19,060 square kilometers (7,359 sq mi), 18,575 square kilometers (7,172 sq mi) of those being land.

New Caledonia is one of the northernmost parts of a (93%) submerged continent called Zealandia. It sank after drifting away from Australia 60–85 million years ago and from Antarctica between 130 and 85 million years ago.

New Caledonia lies astride the Tropic of Capricorn, between 19° and 23° south latitude. The climate of the islands is tropical, and rainfall is highly seasonal, brought by trade winds that usually come from the east. Rainfall averages about 1,500 millimetres (59 in) yearly on the Loyalty Islands, 2,000 millimetres (79 in) at low elevations on eastern Grande Terre, and 2,000-4,000 millimetres (79–157.5 in) at high elevations on the Grande Terre. The western side of the Grande Terre lies in the rain shadow of the central mountains, and rainfall averages 1,200 millimetres (47 in) per year.There are two main seasons – a dry season, and a warm and wet season. The dry cooler months are from April to November with daily temperature ranges from 17-27oC. During the wet season (December to March) the temperature can get as hot as 32oC. The south-east trade winds temper the heat, and evenings are pleasantly cool. The wet season sees the occasional cyclone hitting the islands.

New Caledonia’s EcologyNew Caledonia is considered one of the world’s most botanically-important, and critically endangered hotspots. Unlike many of the Pacific Islands, which are of relatively recent volcanic origin, New Caledonia is an ancient fragment of the Gondwana super-continent. New Caledonia and New Zealand separated from Australia 85 million years ago[citation needed], and from one another 55 million years ago[citation needed]. This isolated New Caledonia from the rest of the world’s landmasses, and made it a Noah’s Ark of sorts, preserving a snapshot of prehistoric Gondwanan forests. The country still shelters an extraordinary diversity of unique, endemic, and extremely primitive plants and animals of Gondwanan origin. In the past, New Caledonia’s wildlife was even more ancient, almost resembling throwbacks to the Mesozoic. New Caledonia was inhabited by Meiolania, a gigantic turtle resembling a dinosaur ankylosaur the size of a car. Another inhabitant of New Caledonia was Sylviornis, a huge bird with a long, reptilian tail that resembles a dinosaur, probably most closely resembling the oviraptors. The dominant predators of New Caledonia were mekosuchine crocodiles, specifically Mekosuchus. These crocs resembled armored, quadrupedal theropod dinosaurs, and fossil remains suggest they were terrestrial and partly arboreal. All of these creatures died out when humans arrived on New Caledonia.

Although the majority of the country’s citizens are unaware of the extraordinary nature of their country’s biological heritage, a few of the country’s animals and plants have become somewhat emblematic in local culture. Among the best known is a hen-sized, flightless bird, commonly-known as the Cagou or Kagu, which has a large crest and an odd barking call. Its song and image are frequently seen as nationally-recognized icons. Another commonly used cultural emblem is the Columnar or Cook’s Pine (Araucaria columnaris), an important symbol in Kanak culture. The Niaouli tree (also native to Australia and New Guinea), is of medicinal interest, locally and abroad. Its sap (which contains gomenol, a camphor-smelling compound), is used to treat head colds, and as an antiseptic. It also shows potential to treat other medical ailments. Before the Europeans arrived, there was no mammal other than the Roussette (aka flying fox), a large vegetarian bat, considered a local delicacy. Less well-known by the native population is the fact their country is home to a species of plant, (Amborella trichopoda), believed to be genetically close to the ancestor of all flowering plants, or the fact their nation boasts the largest number and diversity of conifer species in the world, per unit of geographic area (a remarkable fact, given that conifers are usually relatively rare in tropical regions).The islands contain two precipitation zones: Higher-rainfall areas (located on the Loyalty Islands, Isle of Pines (Île des Pins), and on the eastern side of Grande Terre) which support New Caledonia rain forests, and a more arid region, home to the now exceedingly-endangered New Caledonia dry forests, located in the rain shadow on the western side of Grande Terre. Europeans settled on the dry west coast of Grande Terre, leaving the east (as well as the Loyalty Islands and the Isle of Pines) to the Kanaks, and resulting in an ethno-cultural division which coincides with the natural one. Extensive farming by Europeans in the dry forest areas, has caused these forest ecosystems to virtually disappear.It is a vast oversimplification, however, to merely describe New Caledonia’s extremely important, complex and diverse ecology in terms of precipitation zones. Species and ecological diversity is further complicated by soil type (degree and type of mineralization), altitude, and geographic location (for instance, Loyalty Islands and Isle of Pines have flora that is distinct from Grande Terre).

In addition to the remarkable terrestrial environment of New Caledonia, the country is also home to important aquatic ecosystems. Its freshwater ecology also evolved in long isolation, and the New Caledonia rivers and streams are home to many endemic species. Moreover, the New Caledonia Barrier Reef, which surrounds Grande Terre and the Isle of Pines (Île des Pins), is the second-largest coral reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, reaching a length of 1,500 kilometres (930 mi). Like its terrestrial counterpart, the Caledonian reef system has great species diversity, is home to endangered dugongs (Dugong dugong), and is an important nesting site for the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas). The Nautilus is a living-fossil species, once common during the age of the dinosaurs, and survives today in the waters surrounding New Caledonia. In January 2002, the French government proposed listing New Caledonia’s reefs as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO listed New Caledonia Barrier Reef on the World Heritage List under the name The Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems on 7 July 2008.

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 189

    (As at Aptil 2020)

    National Bird - Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus

  • Number of endemics: 23

    Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus New Caledonian Imperial-pigeon Ducula goliath Cloven-feathered Dove Drepanoptila holosericea  New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles savesi  New Caledonian Rail Gallirallus lafresnayanus White-bellied Goshawk Accipiter haplochrous  Horned Parakeet Eunymphicus cornutus  Ouvea Parakeet Eunymphicus uvaeensis New Caledonian Lorikeet Charmosyna diadema Crow Honeyeater Gymnomyza aubryana New Caledonian Friarbird Philemon diemenensis New Caledonian Myzomela Myzomela caledonica Barred Honeyeater Gliciphila undulata New Caledonian Whistler Pachycephala caledonica New Caledonian Cicadabird Edolisoma anale New Caledonia Streaked Fantail Rhipidura verreauxi New Caledonian Crow Corvus moneduloides Yellow-bellied Robin Cryptomicroeca flaviventris New Caledonian Thicketbird Megalurulus mariae Small Lifou White-eye Zosterops minutus Green-backed White-eye Zosterops xanthochroa Large Lifou White-eye Zosterops inornatus Striated Starling Aplonis striata Red-throated Parrotfinch Erythrura psittacea

    The following were endemic but are now assumed to be extinct: New Caledonian Nightjar Eurostopodus exul New Caledonia Gallinule Porphyrio kukwiedei  New Caledonian Buttonquail Turnix novaecaledoniae 

Useful Reading

  • Birds of Melanesia: Bismarcks, Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia

    | By Guy Dutson | Christopher Helm | 2011 | Paperback | 447 pages | 75 colour plates | colour photos | colour maps | black & white illustrations | tables | ISBN: 9780713665406 Buy this book from
  • Field Guide to the Birds of the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

    | By Chris Doughty, Nicholas Day & Andrew Plant | Christopher Herm | 1999 | Paperback | 206 pages, 91 colour plates, 340 colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9780713646900 Buy this book from
  • Société Calédonienne d'Ornithologie

    Protection des oiseaux de la Nouvelle-Calédonie…

Abbreviations Key

  • PP Grandes Fougeres

    Facebook PageSatellite View
    At the crossroads of Farino, Moindou and Sarraméa, the Giant Fern Park is a welcoming and people-friendly environment, perfect for walking or riding mountain bikes. You can create your own itineraries from the many walking trails in the 4 500 hectare tropical rain forest, which is set in an altitude of between 400m and 700m...
  • PP Riviere Bleue

    InformationSatellite View
    The Blue River Provincial Park was created in 1980 and stretches over 9,045 hectares. Lumber and mining operations at the turn of the century have left marks that are still visible. Learn more about the history of New Caledonian in this unique natural environment, where you can view the scrub that has grown back in the mining zones and the rainforest...
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Birding Ecotours

    Tour Operator
    It boasts of 3,500 varieties of plants, of which three-quarters are endemic, 4,300 species of terrestrial animals, 200 species of birds (including the Kagu), 1,000 species of fish, and 6,500 marine invertebrates.
  • Caledonia Birds

    Tour Operator
    Isabelle will guide you to the best places to watch caledonian birds and especially the Kagu.
  • Kiwi Wildlife Tours

    Tour Operator
    Birds & birdwatching in the South Pacific Islands
  • NCFS

    Tour Operator
    New Caledonia is a territory where you will observe rare and/or endemic birds (sea, bush and dry forest birds). Some species nest on sheltered lagoon's islands. Some of these islands are strictly
Trip Reports
  • 2014 [10 October] - Peter Marsh

    PDF Report
    ...We visited Mt Koghis briefly. The restaurant appears to be back in operation. We walkedinto the forest past the flying-fox adventure park but only had time for a look. The areaused to be known for Thicketbird but there did not appear to be much suitable habitatnow. We had also hoped for White-bellied Goshawk but were disappointed...
  • 2015 [08 August] - Tommy P. Pedersen

    PDF Report
    Sites and annotated bird list
  • 2016 [07 July] - David Hoddinott & Rich Lindie - Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu & New Caledonia

    PDF Report
    ...over a dozen of the region's endemics, including BarredHoneyeater, New Caledonian Friarbird, South MelanesianCuckooshrike, Streaked Fantail, Melanesian Flycatcher,New Caledonian Crow and Yellow-bellied Flyrobin. Furtherdown the road, outside the reserve...
  • 2017 [07 July] - Erik Forsyth & Rich Lindie

    PDF Report
  • 2018 [11 November] - New Caledonia & Fiji, with Vanuatu & Samoa

    PDF Report
    The unique Orange Fruit Dove was the undisputed highlight of our very enjoyable foray to the Melanesian islands of Vanuatu and New Caledonia and the Polynesian islands of Fiji and Samoa. These little dots sprinkled about in the western Pacific Ocean hold an amazing variety of endemics and specialities and on our recent trip we managed to see the majority of these.
  • 2018 [12 December] - Chris Lotz

    PDF Report
    This short and highly successful New Caledonia set departure group tour followed our Western Australia tour. The tour started in Nouméa and concluded back there. The tour focused on (and was successful in) finding all of the endemic birds found on Grande Terre, the main and largest island of New Caledonia, as well as several regional endemic species and a number of distinct subspecies that may warrant full species status in the future.
  • 2019 [09 September] - Stephen Blaber

    This trip followed our visit to Vanuatu. A trip about 20 years ago to Parc de la Rivière Bleu had netted many of the endemics, but six were not seen, including the renowned New Caledonian Crow and Horned Parakeet.
  • 2020 [01 January] - Mark Sutton

    PDF Report
    This trip was taken at the end of a 9-week sabbatical for me and a 6-week sabbatical for Linda. We had both toured New Zealand for 4 weeks prior to this and I had been on a Sub Antarctic cruise for 18 days before Linda’s arrival.
Other Links
  • Endemic Birds of New Caledonia

    22 species of endemic birds are found on New Caledonia with a further 9 species of very restricted range
  • New Caledonia Sparrowhawk Accipiter haplochrous

    Species account
  • Ouvea Parakeet Eunymphicus cornutus uvaensis

    Species account and image

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