Mātātā/ fernbird calling and displaying on Tiritiri Matangi

Taken from the SoTM archives, Dawn Chorus 46. The original article was written by Carl Hayson.Date: November 2023Photo credit: Sarah Wells

Thirteen mātātā were translocated in June 2001 to rescue them from the path of the new Northern Motorway. Although a transfer was scheduled later that year, scrub clearance for the motorway began suddenly in June. Kevin Parker, a graduate of Auckland University, organized the rescue transfer. The Department of Conservation promptly processed the transfer permit, and Ngati Poa Kaumatua granted their blessing.


Handling stress is a significant concern when transferring any new species, and it was unknown how mātātā would respond. Therefore, it was decided that helicopters should be used to transfer birds when the ferry was unavailable.

The mātātā is a fascinating bird that can be found in areas of scrub and swamp. Its long tail feathers, which get worn and frayed like the leaves of a fern, have earned it the nickname “fernbird”. With longitudinal brown streaks on its upper body and a white underbelly with brownish-black spots, the mātātā is a beautiful bird to behold. Interestingly, the mātātā is not a strong flyer and has a labored flight with rapid wing beats and a trailing tail. However, it thrives in dense vegetation, which can be found in many areas of Tiritiri Matangi. The bird is known for its “utick” call, but it also makes a wide variety of other calls, ranging from bell-like notes to rapid clicking, especially during territorial disputes.

It is estimated that we currently have approximately 150 mātātā on Tiritiri Matangi Island.(make sure you have your volume up)Video credit: Kathryn Jones

The catching technique involved using mist nets, audio equipment with taped calls, and a lot of patience. It was a challenging task for Kevin and his team, as the Mātātā birds are not easy to catch due to their poor flight and short wings. One bird had to hit the net 8 times before finally getting caught. Once captured, the birds were transferred to the island via helicopter or ferry, depending on the time of capture. If caught in the evening, the birds were held overnight and provided with plenty of food before being transported the next morning. The release was done at Lighthouse Valley, which has similar vegetation to the Orewa area. Unfortunately, due to uncertainty about how the birds would react, a public transfer was not possible for this species.

Special thanks for this operation must go to Rosalie Stamp of DOC, Henriata Gordon of Ngati Poa for organising the blessing, Te Warena of Te Kawerau a Maki, Tim Lovegrove of ARC, Dianne Brunton and Sandra Anderson of Auckland University and all the volunteers from University of Auckland and Tiritiri Supporters who have helped out in the field. Finally Kevin Parker for organising the operation with volunteers and equipment.