Hihi volunteer needed

Date posted: 18-Oct-2018

Would you like to volunteer with the Island's hihi team and learn from them how ..

2019 Calendars now available

Date posted: 05-Sep-2018

The new 2019 calendars are now available and this year's is better than ever! Th..

Winners of kokako photo competition

Date posted: 02-Sep-2018

The stunning winning photographs from those submitted to the competition as part..

Kokako Celebration

Date posted: 21-Jul-2018


Kokako Photographic Competition

Date posted: 20-Jul-2018

KŌKAKO PHOTOGRAPHIC COMPETITION Celebrating 21 years on Tiritiri Matangi To ce..

New monitoring reports published

Date posted: 19-Jul-2018

Reports on monitoring studies carried out over the past year have now been poste..

2018 Concert coming up soon

Date posted: 15-Feb-2018

Our 2018 concert will feature an afternoon of light classics and jazz courtesy of the Auckland Ph..

Wetapunga talk coming soon

Date posted: 05-Feb-2018

For the Social on 19 March the speaker will be Ben Goodwin of Auckland Zoo, who will talk about t..

Rat caught and now takahe released from pens

Date posted: 28-Jan-2018

Thankfully DOC staff Andre de Graaf and Polly Hall and their assistants have trapped the rat whic..

Your Christmas Shopping for a Song

Date posted: 04-Dec-2017

Aka - The Grand Christmas Shopping Expedition to Tiritiri Matangi Island Shop Dreading..

North Island Saddleback

Scientific name:

 Philesturnus rufusater

Maori Name:




Conservation status

 Endemic. At risk - recovering

Mainland status:

 Extinct, but introduced to some sanctuaries


 28cm, 80g (males), 25cm, 70g (females)


 Up to 20 years or so


 October – January


 Mainly invertebrates, some fruit and nectar

First introduced to Tiri:


Population on Tiri:

 500-1000 (2012)

Total population:

 6000+ (the closely related South Island saddleback: 1200+) (Hoosen and Jamieson 2003)

Saddleback - photographer: Alex MitchellLike the North Island kōkako, the two species of saddleback belong to the wattlebird family, an ancient group of birds which includes the officially extinct huia and South Island kōkako. Saddlebacks have fleshy bright orange-red wattles at the base of their bills; in juvenile birds, the wattles are very small. The head and body is a glossy black with a chestnut brown saddle and chestnut plumage under the tail. The North Island species has a thin buff line at the upper edge of the saddle. The South Island species and juveniles of the NI species lack this buff coloured line. Juveniles of the SI species have a different plumage, being a uniform brown.

Also like the kōkako they are poor fliers, moving through the forest by bounding from tree to tree using their strong legs. They do fly, but seldom for more than 50 metres at a time. Their jaws are very strong, which enables them to lever bark from trees and split decaying branches in search of insects, especially wētā. They spend a lot of time rummaging around on the forest floor, poking in leaf litter and crevices, which makes them very susceptible to predation. They supplement their diet with fruit and nectar in the summer months.

Saddleback - photographer: Peter CrawSaddlebacks are long lived and can form life-long pairs. The oldest male on Tiritiri Matangi was 18 when he disappeared, and the oldest female was 21; she had outlived two mates and was on her third. Saddlebacks make their nests in tree holes and dense epiphytes, usually close to the ground. They also nest among flax plants.

Saddlebacks are possibly the most vocal birds in the bush. They make a huge variety of sounds. Their loud, repetitive territorial calls are often likened to a car alarm or an engine that stubbornly refuses to start. Their contact calls are much quieter – gentle growls and soft murmurs. Different saddleback populations develop their own dialects, but appear to have no difficulty understanding each other when brought together through translocations.

In Maori tradition, the tīeke (saddleback) is said to have received its chestnut saddle from Maui, who asked the bird to fetch him some water to quench his thirst as he fought the sun. The tīeke pretended not to hear and in his anger Maui gripped the bird in his hot hand, burning its back.

NI Saddlebacks were first released on Tiritiri Matangi in 1984, when the species was severely endangered. They have recovered well, through their introduction to a number of predator-free islands and protected mainland sites. Tiritiri Matangi has been a popular source of birds for translocation, and the occasional removal of birds benefits the Island's population by helping to prevent overcrowding. In 1984, there was very little bush on the Island, and so very few natural roosting and nesting sites. Boxes were provided, which the birds took to readily. As the planted bush has matured, many more natural sites have become available, but some nest boxes are still used and are part of an annual banding and monitoring programme which enables volunteers to gauge the success of breeding seasons.*

The saddleback is an iconic bird for the Supporters of Tiritiri Mātangi (SoTM). When SoTM was founded in 1988 the saddleback’s image was adopted as the society’s logo. 

* Tīeke in nest boxes: Click here to see a report on the Island's tīeke nest box scheme.

Find out more about the saddleback at New Zealand Birds Online.

Photography by:  Alex Mitchell © (top right), Peter Craw © (above left) and John Stewart (bottom right).

References: Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 2000, The Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. Auckland, Viking. Hoosen, S. and Jamieson, I. G. 2003, The distribution and current status of New Zealand Saddleback Philesturnus carunculatus, Bird Conservation International 13: 79-95, Birdlife International.