Hihi Breeding Program in Tiritiri Matangi

by Misha on

You could be marooned in worse places. The weather on the island is agreeable, the lodgings are nice, the views are pretty and even the locals are just about tolerable. Really, it’s not a bad spot at all. At least that is what I try to tell them, as they flit in and out of their nest boxes, bound about announcing their territories in the developing forest and guzzle sugar water to fuel their passions. They don’t seem to need my reassurance though, restless as they are to perform the tasks necessary to continue their species’ remarkable recovery. For some reason, pretty much invariably, one of the first things you are told about the Hihi (or Stitchbird, Notiomystis cincta, a honeyeater-like passerine) is that it is the only species of bird that copulates face-to-face (run an image search for “Hihi copulation” if no-one is looking over your shoulder). This forms part of a fascinating and slightly terrifying mating system, but I merely mention it here in order to continue the tradition.

Male Hihi bird

Tiritiri is a triumph: two square kilometres of regenerating native forest filled with a riot of bird life just 4km out into the Hauraki Gulf from mainland New Zealand. The translocation here of Hihi in 1995 was integrated into a broader plan of habitat restoration that had begun in earnest in 1984. Bucketloads of volunteer sweat and swearing contributed to the replanting of native trees and shrubs, and the eradication of the Polynesian Rat across the island. By the time the Hihi arrived, a host of nectar- and fruit-producing plants awaited it. With the help of management techniques such as artificial nestboxes and supplementary food–administered while we wait for the forest to become mature enough to provide ample food and nest sites itself–the population on Tiritiri has been productive enough to provide the founders for recent reintroductions that marked the Hihi's glorious and unlikely return to the mainland. As I write, the 2013/14 breeding season on Tiritiri Matangi is gathering its raucous momentum: eggs are appearing in the nest boxes, and the first few chicks crane their adorably ugly heads out of the nest bowl. Stepping towards summer, the weather is volatile. T-shirt and shorts conditions just days ago have given way to sporadic rain and a chilly wind that will rise to gale-force by tomorrow. Hopefully, this won't put a dampener on the Hihi's early spurt, but clamber up to a high point and you can see the choppy seas. It's a cracking view, though. To the southwest, you can pick out the Sky Tower of Auckland and mainland North Island, looming in the haze to the northeast lies the hulk of Hauturu, host to the last remnant population of Hihi. Between them: Tiritiri Matangi, stepping stone in the great rebound back.

Select a blog

Artefact of the month

Every month one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the month.

Asia Conservation Programme

Get the latest on ZSL's conservation work in Asia.

B.U.G.S Blog

Find out more about life in our B.U.G.S exhibit

Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation

A new Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.

ZSL Shop

See the latest ranges, updates and special offers from our exciting new online shop.

Wild About Magazine

Excerpts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine.

ZSL London Zoo

A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo. Bringing you amazing animal facts and exclusive access to the world's scientific oldest zoo.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Discover more about the UK's biggest zoo with our fun blog posts!

Discovery and Learning in the Field

Join the ZSL Discovery and Learning team as they venture out of the zoo and in to the wild.


Catch up on our latest Conservation Blogs


ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's elephant keepers give an insight into the daily goings on in the elephant barn.

Tiger conservation

Read about conservation of tigers in Asia.

Videographer Blog

One man is boldly going where no other ZSL videographer has gone before - the land of Mountain Chicken Frogs.

Wild Science

From the field, to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.

Wildlife Wood Project Cameroon

The Wildlife Wood Project has been working in Cameroon since 2007 to encourage better wildlife management in logging concessions.

Penguin expedition blog

Updates from penguin conservation expeditions to Antarctica

Amur Leopard

Amur leopard conservation blog

Baby Giraffe Diaries

Meet ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's latest (and leggiest) arrival, a baby giraffe!

Biodiversity and Palm Oil

Follow the ZSL Biodiversity and Palm Oil team, based in Bogor, Indonesia.

Chagos Expedition

The Chagos marine reserve, designated in 2010 and currently the world’s largest no take marine reserve, is a sought-after spot for marine research.


Science blogs

Tsaobis Baboon Blog

Follow ZSL conservationists studying desert baboons in Namibia.