News | 13 August 2021

Tītipounamu pair found on Te Ahūmairangi Hill

New Zealand’s smallest bird has been sighted on Te Ahūmairangi Hill in Wellington City, possibly the first time that tītipounamu/rifleman have been present in the area for over 100 years.

Tītipounamu image credit Melissa Boardman
Credit Melissa Boardman

Tītipounamu were introduced to Wellington ecosanctuary, Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, from Wainuiomata Mainland Island in 2019. 

“It’s really rewarding to see the progeny of tītipounamu, transferred to Zealandia from our Wainuiomata Mainland Island, are spreading their wings across a Wellington environment that’s increasingly receptive to native birds because of the commitment of Zealandia, Predator Free Wellington and hundreds of back-yard predator trappers. It’s a real win from a collective effort” says Greater Wellington’s Dr Philippa Crisp, Team Leader, Land, Ecology and Climate.

Zealandia’s Kari Beaven also noted that this sighting is an incredibly exciting step for a city which is bucking the trend, with the bird community improving rather than declining. 

“Sightings just beyond the fence in Wright’s Hill in July were somewhat expected, but a pair being spotted kilometres away from the sanctuary at Te Ahūmairangi Hill this week is extraordinary. It is a testament to the care that Wellingtonians are taking of these precious places” 

While common around some areas of the country, the last time tītipounamu would have likely been found in Wellington City would have been over 100 years ago. One of two surviving species endemic to the New Zealand wren family, these birds weigh only 6.5 grams, and their high-pitched calls are often inaudible to humans. 

Brony Shephard, Zealandia volunteer and Te Ahūmairangi Hill Ecological Restoration coordinator, spotted the tītipounamu. She has been involved since the initial translocation and is familiar with the tītipounamu call and initially didn’t believe what she heard. 

“I thought I heard them at around 9am in the morning but disregarded it. But at 12:30pm when I was walking back up, I stopped and saw the pair.”

Shephard says “I first visited Te Ahūmairangi Hill tracking kākāriki for Zealandia research and was surprised to find this hill as an early dispersal site. I remember way back one of the first kākā nests were also found here. It seems the birds are attracted to the uninterrupted forest, and possibly even the height of the hill.”

Daniela Biaggio, Urban Ecology Manager at Wellington City Council says “For all of us who are working to restore and protect our reserves there is no better sign of approval than our native birds choosing them for their home. We have an incredible network of people in Wellington weaving their efforts to build a capital teeming with wildlife. I know Wellingtonians care about this taonga and will support it to thrive in its new home.”

While the sightings are an incredible sign, Zealandia’s Dr Danielle Shanahan noted that it is important for Wellingtonians to continue looking after these precious birds. 

“Alongside trapping pests and planting native trees, one of the best things you can do for birds in Wellington is to care for your pets in a way that minimises the chance they will encounter native wildlife. This is especially important through the breeding season, which is just around the corner.”