Captured on Film: Hihi Nesting in Tawa Tree

This week, Tom and I have been out volunteering at a local Whanganui sanctuary, Bushy Park.

Bushy Park is a 98 hectare predator-free native bird sanctuary, set amongst 87 hectares of lowland temperate forest and 11 hectares of garden and pasture. The sanctuary is kept predator-free by a 4.8km-long 2m-high pest-proof fence that surrounds the area. This allows many species that would not otherwise survive in the presence of rats, stoats, brushtail possums and many other introduced mammals to thrive.

There have been a number of species translocated to Bushy Park since it became predator free, including the rare hihi (stitchbird). On March 24th, 2013 forty-four hihi were released into the forest, of which 23 were male and 21 were female. Most recently in the 2015/16 breeding season, 48 chicks fledged 25 nests made by 12 females.

Hihi (Notiomystis cincta) male

Hihi are particularly special birds because they are the only representatives of the endemic bird family, Notiomystidae.  Previously, hihi had been considered one of the three honeyeaters in New Zealand. But, recent DNA evidence showed that the other two, tui and bellbird, are honeyeaters but that the hihi is not. Rather, the hihi is from an ancient line whose closest relatives are New Zealand wattlebirds (including kokako, tieke, and the extinct huia).

Hihi nest in the cavities of mature trees. They also use artificial nest boxes when mature trees with cavities are limited. At Bushy Park, there are currently 40 nest boxes available for hihi to use. As you can imagine, it is extremely difficult for us to find nests in natural cavities. In fact, at Bushy Park, despite knowing that hihi have used natural cavities before, no nests in natural cavities have actually been found since their reintroduction in 2013. That is why, when walking through the bush on Wednesday, we were very excited to spot a female hihi emerge from a hole in a tawa tree (Beilschmiedia tawa).

Location of the cavity entrance marked by yellow arrow

Somehow, Tom managed to catch a glimpse of a dull brown bird which he thought looked like a female hihi darting into the tree. After waiting about 10 minutes, Brittany (a Massey University student studying hihi nest-box preference) and I saw the bird leave the cavity. We then decided to film the hollow at a distance to confirm the sighting. Sometime later (approximately 15 minutes) a bird once again left the hollow (rather than entering it). We can only presume that we either collectively missed her returning, or she entered through a different cavity which was out of our line of sight. We also spotted two males in the vicinity. One remained close by throughout the experience – the one pictured above and below in this blog.

Tom with his camera focused on the cavity entrance

Below is the video that we captured of the hihi emerging from the natural cavity. Local ornithologist, Peter Frost, commented after seeing the video that the behaviour of the bird looks exactly like one coming out of a nest.

We all got very wet (including the camera equipment) but it was well worth it.

Hihi (Notiomystis cincta) male

References and Further Reading

Department of Conservation Website – Stitchbird/hihi   (Retrieved 26 Nov 2016)

New Zealand Birds Online – Stitchbird   (Retrieved 26 Nov 2016)

Hihi Information Pamphlet   (Retrieved 27 Nov 2016)

Hihi Conservation Website   (Retrieved 27 Nov 2016)

Translocation of Hihi / Stitchbird Notiomystis cincta from Tiritiri Matangi Island to Bushy Park, Wanganui, New Zealand, March 2013 (Initial Report)

Bushy Park Sanctuary Website   (Retrieved 26 Nov 2016)

Bushy Park Sanctuary Update September 2016   (Retrieved 27 Nov 2016)

Bushy Park: Community-based Conservation in Action. Department of Conservation Central North Island Managers’ visit – 19 October 2016

Driskell, A., L. Christidis, B.J. Gill, W.E. Boles, F.K. Barker, and N.W. Longmore. 2007. A new endemic family of New Zealand passerine birds: adding heat to a biodiversity hotspot. Australian J. Zool. 55: 73-78.

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