Left second from top: Kakapo
Left third from top:
Left fourth from top:
Crown Copyright, DoC
Left sixth from top:
Kauri, Alexander Turnbull Library
Top right: An immature
North Island saddleback,
Geoff Moon Illustration Credit
Left above top:
John Gerrard Keulemans
1842-1912, Huia (male
and female) Heteralocha
John Gerrard Keulemans
1842-1912, Jack-bird Creadion cinereus,
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand,
Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa must be obtained before any re-use of these images.
Before mammals were brought to New Zealand, the saddleback was one of the most
common birds in native forests on both mainland islands. But by 1900 they were
only found on offshore islands.
As saddlebacks mainly inhabit the middle and lower layers of the forest,
roost in tree holes near the ground, and probe on the ground through litter for weta,
grubs and other insects, they are more vulnerable to mammal predators. Saddleback
also eat the fruit of forest trees such as kawakawa and coprosma, so habitat loss was
another factor in their extinction on the mainland.
North Island saddleback (Tieke) Philesturnus carunculatus rufusater
The comeback of the North Island saddleback is one of the early success stories of
New Zealand bird protection. In 1964 it was found only on Hen Island in the Hen
and Chicken Islands north of Whangarei Harbour. Some of them were moved to adjoining
Whatapuke Island, in the first native bird translocation in New Zealand by NZ Wildlife
Another early translocation moved saddleback to predator-free Cuvier Island in the
Hauraki Gulf north of the Coromandel Peninsula, where they have thrived. Cuvier
has since been an aviary supplying saddleback for other islands. They are now
on nine northern islands including restored Tiritiri Matangi Island, and
protected Little Barrier Island.
Saddlebacks are very vocal, especially the male, which has a repertoire of melodious
calls used during mating and in territorial disputes. They are a medium size
of 25 cm., weighing 70-80g, with both adults having a similar appearance. The
female has smaller orange wattles and weighs about 10g less than the male.
The young saddleback shown above has undeveloped wattles.
South Island saddleback Philesturnus carunculatus carunculatus
At the turn of the 20th century, the South Island subspecies was also extinct on
the mainland island, and limited to Big South Cape Island, Pukeweka Island, and
Solomon Island which are near Stewart Island.
In 1964, ship rats got ashore on Big South Cape Island from a wrecked boat, and quickly
spread to Pukeweka and Solomon Islands. This resulted in New Zealand's worst ecological
disaster in modern times, and the fastest extinction of three species, with the loss
of the Stewart Island snipe, Stead's bush wren and greater short-tailed bat.
The NZ Wildlife Service (now the Department of Conservation) rescued the last 36 South
Island saddleback from extinction, by moving them to an island free of predators. It
is now on eleven offshore islands and the population has grown to about 650 birds.
South Island saddlebacks younger than 15 months (called "jack birds") have dark
brown plumage, as shown in the illustration above. The chestnut colored saddle
forms on its back after the second time it moults. Juvenile North Island birds
get their "saddleback" marking before leaving the nest. The North Island
race is slightly different with a distinct narrow pale margin on the front edge
of the saddle.
International Threatened & Endangered Listing
2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Huia Heteralocha acutirostris Extinct North Island kokakoCallaeas cinerea
Endangered SaddlebackPhilesturnus carunculatus
Lower risk, near threatened