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Friday, March 9, 2012

#160 Tieke

Philesturnus carunculatus
IUCN Redlist: Near Threatened
Location: Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand
Time: 1115 NZDT March 9, 2012

The tieke, also known as the saddleback, is a member of an ancient family of birds, the Calleidae or NZ wattlebirds. The other two recent members of this family are the Kokako, also reintroduced to Tiritiri Matangi, and the extinct Huia.

There are two subspecies of tieke, the North Island (rufusater) and South Island (carunculatus), and at both were at one point restricted to a single island haven each. Though both are now secure, the South Island subspecies came perilously close to disappearing altogether. It lived on Great South Cape Island, off the coast of Stewart Island at the southern end of New Zealand. In 1963 rats arrived on Great South Cape, and quickly overran the island. Quick action by the NZ Wildlife Service saved 36 birds which were moved to other islands, and which are the antecedents of all South Island Tieke today.

Although the tieke were saved, two species of bird, the South Island Snipe and the Bush Wren, were lost, as was the Greater Short-tailed Bat, one of only 3 terrestrial mammals native to New Zealand.

The North Island subspecies luckily never faced such a mortal threat. It lived on Taranga or Hen Island, about 70 km north of Tiritiri Matangi. It has since been established on numerous island sanctuaries, and both subspecies are beginning to be reintroduced to mainland sanctuaries.

Tieke are known to form mixed-species flocks, and on Tiri I saw one travelling with a group of popokatea, and piwakawaka or NZ fantails.


  1. Awesome photo and cute story about the mixed flock. I've shared this on the Saddleback/Tieke Facebook page

  2. Thanks for your interest Jackson, and for the link. I wish I'd got a few more good photos of them, but they are just all over the place