From 2-15 November, Bird of the Year Te Manu Rongonui o Te Tau 2020 is back showcasing our native birds and the importance of their preservation, encouraging Kiwis to vote for their favourites and support our feathered friends.
Wellington Mayor Andy Foster says the total population of the hihi (also known as the stitchbird) is unlikely to exceed 2000 birds. By the end of the nineteenth century introduced predators and habitat loss meant the hihi were confined only to Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island. Our own Zealandia is thought now to have the largest mainland population which makes the hihi an even better bird to support.
“Predator control and habitat protection and recreation are critical for native birds, especially the more vulnerable like the hihi,” says Mayor Foster. “The significant increase of native birds like tūī, kākā and kākāriki in our city and surrounds shows how land purchase and protection, conservation initiatives, public engagement and predator control has benefitted these birds.
“In my time Wellington City Council has massively expanded our reserves network, and consistently led the country in supporting local conservation programmes, ecological restoration, and predator control volunteer groups in the capital – and this collective effort is seeing some world leading restoration results.
“Unfortunately, the hihi is still at risk, so we’re supporting this vulnerable bird this year to ensure its rejuvenation is ongoing – and its high-pitched whistle becomes as familiar as the tūī’s call. This makes it all the more the time for the hihi to have its place in the sun!”
The common name of this bird, the stitchbird, is believed to come from their high-pitched zit tzit whistle. They have a curved bill and a long tongue that is used to reach deeply into flowers to brush nectar to eat.
There are many ways we can support the hihi and other native birds, says Councillor Teri O’Neill, Natural Environment portfolio lead.
“A large part of Bird of the Year is to learn about how we can help our little feathered friends, like joining a local volunteer group as a trapper, planting trees, pulling weeds, and all sorts of skills required – the most important thing you can provide is your time.
“Remember that most native birds prefer nectar, not bread or grains, so setting up a nectar feeder in your garden will see them literally eat like a bird in your own backyard! It’s important to keep the feeder clean and high off the ground away from predators though.”
In Māori ‘hihi’ is a term used for the healing rays of sunlight, referring to the burst of yellow on the shoulders of the male birds which often flashes bright when the bird moves through light.
Council’s Team Leader Urban Ecology, Daniela Biaggio says Wellington is one of the few places in the country where you can encounter the threatened hihi.
“This year we were thrilled to get reports of hihi sighted in some of our reserves outside of Zealandia, namely Otari and Pollhil. These birds are particularly vulnerable to predation and we hope that with the continued work to reduce impacts of predators in our reserves we will see their numbers increase in coming years.”
Wellington sports teams The Pulse and The Phoenix are also supporting the hihi – the bird that sports their team colours.
Wellington City Council will be celebrating the hihi with information, images and prizes on its social media channels – so keep a birds eye view on them, and remember to vote hihi at https://www.birdoftheyear.org.nz/