Te Hauturu-o-Toi / Little Barrier Island has a unique ability to support vulnerable species in a way that almost no other location can. Is it because of its predator and pest-free status? Its largely untouched ecosystem? Or something else? We are fortunate in the Hauturu Supporters Trust to have a wealth of expertise in our leadership. We asked Trustee Richard Griffiths, former head of the Hihi Restoration Group,  why he believes that Hihi (stitchbird) can thrive on Hauturu without extra help.  

There are seven populations of Hihi in New Zealand’s North Island, with an estimated 700 individual birds on Hauturu, and around 600 in the other locations, according to the Hihi Conservation website.

Yet Hauturu is the only location where the species doesn’t need support in the form of supplementary food, nesting boxes or nest management.

Richard explains that the species forages on nectar, fruit and invertebrates, and while it was once thought to be in the honeyeater family, like tui and bellbird, it has now been categorized as the only species in its own unique family; the Notiomystidae .Its scientific name, Notiomystis cincta, translates as ‘southern mystery’.

Because they build their cup-shaped nests in tree cavities this medium-sized bird is particularly vulnerable to introduced predators, which explains why it disappeared from the mainland, and survives in modified habitats only where cavities in the form of nest boxes are provided.

“To this day Hauturu remains the only self-supporting population of the species,” says Richard. “The reasons why this should be the case are not 100% but are likely tied up in the fact that Hauturu offers the most intact forest ecosystem with a range of habitat types on an altitudinal gradient that provides a year-round supply of food even in the presence of competitors like tui and bellbird.”

He says that the honeyeater species, tui and bellbird, compete with hihi – which is the smallest of the three and at the bottom of the pecking order.

“There has been quite a lot of work in establishing new populations on offshore islands and within fenced sanctuaries. These populations are all supported in various ways, with supplementary food (sugar water) provided, nest boxes because there aren’t enough mature trees with cavities, and even hands-on intensive management of nest sites to control mites and other issues.”

Hauturu was the last refugia for the species that disappeared from the North Island in the late 1800’s. Hihi are classified as endangered as ‘without intervention, all of the established populations could disappear within a few years leaving Hauturu once again as the only population in existence,” says Richard.

About Hihi/stitchbirds (Notiomystis cincta)

The name Hihi means ‘little ray of sun’- likely named after the yellow flashes on the wings of the male birds. Hihi are pollinators and seed dispersers that feed on nectar, invertebrates and fruit. They are eye-catching with the males sporting white ear tufts on jet-black heads and yellow wing bars.  Find out more at …www.hihiconservation.com

The best place to see hihi is in one of our fenced sanctuaries: Zealandia in Wellington, Bushy Park in Whanganui, Rotokare in Taranaki and Maungatautari, Waikato or on Tiritiri Matangi Island.

 

Photo / Liz Whitewell

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