Our Newest Arrival

by Alex Wall

Photos: Tara Swan

Which bird is black and tan and rarely seen in any New Zealand forest?
Need some clues?

Once common throughout the North Island, its numbers were decimated by the introduction of rats and stoats that arrived with the early European settlers. By the late 1800’s a small island north of Auckland and due East of the Marsden Point Oil Refinery called Hen (Taranga) Island, was the only place with a surviving natural population of these birds. All other populations established on mainland sites have originally been translocated from this island.

Hmm. Still can’t get it?

The bird’s current population is estimated to be around 7000 although there has never been a formal count. It is part of the wattlebird family that includes birds with wattles that hang from the base of their beaks such as kōkako and the extinct huia. The bird’s call is unique and almost sounds like someone laughing.

Getting close now?

It is a medium sized bird, about 25cms long and weighing up to 80 grams.

The Māori name for the bird is tīeke. That’s right, it’s the saddleback!

On the 9th of October, Pūkaha received two tīeke from Auckland Zoo and transferred them into Aviary 6A. The public can now view these birds during our opening hours (daily, 9am – 6pm).

The pair are part of an advocacy program and will play a vital role in educating people about the species and why efforts to save them should be continued.

Tīeke have done well in other predator free sanctuaries, such as Zealandia (Wellington) and Bushy Park (Wanganui). They have even been recorded breeding outside the fence of Zealandia – a first on the mainland for many years!

It shows how conservation action and perseverance over time can contribute to saving a species.