Takahe  Kiwi
Kakapo  Penguin
Weka  Wren  Moa
Gigantism in insects

Wetas taking
the place of
small mammals.
Giant worms

Living fossils
Frogs and snails
Tuatara - world's
oldest reptile

Big Trees

Photo Credit
Left second from top: Kakapo
Left third from top:
Tusked weta
Left fourth from top:
Archey's frog
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
Lower right:
John Gerrard Keulemans
1842-1912, Jack-bird
Creadion cinereus,
Saddleback Creadion
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.


Hear the song of the saddleback
Requires RealPlayer to run  INSTALL REAL PLAYER

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 Service biologists.

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.

Next page - huia     kokako
Return to wattlebirds

Immature saddleback

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.

Saddleback, John Gerrard Keulemans

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

  Heteralocha acutirostris  Extinct
North Island kokako  Callaeas cinerea
Saddleback  Philesturnus carunculatus
Lower risk, near threatened

Copyright © 2004 TerraNature Trust. All rights reserved.

home | sponsors | latest news & events | join - donate | contact information | projects
volunteer activities | about us | search terranature | environmental issues | New Zealand ecology