Hihi having the last laugh

John G Ewen

We are celebrating the fantastic work bringing the New Zealand hihi bird bouncing back from the brink of extinction.

Going from just one remote island population to six across many and growing, we hear from one of our dedicated conservationists inside the Hihi Recovery Group, Dr. John Ewen. 

Male hihi
The hihi conservation project has been running for 33 years

The hihi are a small (30 – 40g) endangered forest dwelling passerine endemic to New Zealand. The males are one of New Zealand’s most strikingly coloured birds with black, bright yellow and white plumage.

In pre-European times the species was distributed throughout the North Island and its offshore islands. However, by the end of the 19th century the only population that remained was that on Hauturu, a small offshore island.

Their disappearance was due to introduced predators, habitat loss and disease but luckily the hihi managed to cling on in this single island population for a century.

This started to change in 1980, when we began actively working to recover hihi. ZSL joined in these efforts twelve years ago.

male hihi
The hihi bird can only be found in New Zealand
Recovery is primarily done through reintroducing hihi to restored, exotic predator free, parts of their former range and then supporting these new and establishing populations with supplementary food, nest boxes and controlling any disease causing parasites.

The first successful reintroduction occurred in the early 1990’s. Under this intensive management the hihi has been steadily increasing in numbers of populations and birds. ZSL is now a major contributor to this work with the current species recovery group coordinator on staff and numerous supportive research projects being undertaken. 

As we near the halfway mark for another southern hemisphere hihi breeding season the signs are good for enough birds being born to support our next reintroduction, this will increase the number of populations from one remnant in 1980 to six populations by early next year. A nice prospect to bring in the New Year and one that highlights the positive progress that can be made in species conservation. 

Male tagged hihi stood on a tree branch
Hihi is a New Zealand Maori word meaning “ray of sunshine”
Today we launch our first ever formal Annual Report from the Hihi Recovery Group.

Please download this report to learn more about what we do, where we do it, and most importantly how you might be able to help. Hihi will certainly appreciate it!

You can also learn much more about our work from our dedicated project webpage or contact one of ZSL’s staff or students who are working to support hihi recovery.

Hihi project - map of New Zealand
The hihi was once isolated to Haurutu Island due to predators, habitat loss and disease
Hihi is a New Zealand Maori word meaning “ray of sunshine”, the first health giving rays in particular.

We like to think that hihi are health giving indicators for New Zealand forests and their recovery represents hope for conservation.

The rewards we see from this recovery project not only inspires New Zealand conservation, but the lessons we have learnt are informing species recovery projects globally.

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