Project started
12 June 1980
Project status
New Zealand
Project collaborators
John ewen holder image

Dr John G Ewen

Senior Research Fellow

Patricia Brekke

Dr Patricia Brekke

Research Fellow

Hihi facts

Hihi are a small 30-40g bird from New Zealand which we are working to save from extinction. They are sexually dimorphic, and males have bright yellow shoulders, a black head with white tufts on their ears which they can flare up, whilst females are a more subtle olive-brown. Hihi feed on feed on nectar, fruit and invertebrates, and their common ‘tzit tzit’ sounding call is believed be the reason for their other name, the stitchbird. 

Hihi are especially vulnerable to changes in habitat because they are highly sensitive to introduced predators and can be outcompeted by more dominant birds when food is scarce. This makes their presence a positive sign for the health of a forest. There are now over 2000 hihi spread across seven populations in New Zealand, as our work continues to recover hihi populations and help restore their forest ecosystems.  

Hihi call:

Female hihi feeding at a bird feeder
Male hihi
Female hihi left, male hihi right

Hihi meaning 

Hihi’s are named after the Māori word for ray of sunshine and were pushed to brink of extinction following European colonisation of New Zealand. The colonisers cleared forests and introduced new mammal predators like rats and domestic cats, which wiped out the mainland hihi population. The hihi became restricted to a single offshore island in Northern New Zealand by around 1890. The hihi managed to cling on in this single island population for a century, until conservationists stepped in. 

Hihi facts

  • Hihi hold world records levels of extra pair sexual activity and illegitimate young amongst song bird species! 

    - ZSL research
  • Pioneering new method to monitor hihi reintroductions
    Monitoring hihi calls
  • One of a kind
    ZSL research discovered they are the sole representative from an endemic bird family.
  • Unique behaviour
    Hihi are the only birds known to occasionally mate face-to-face.
  • Over 2000 individuals
    Back from the brink of extinction after conservationists stepped in.
  • Hihi conservation in New Zealand  

    We’re working at the cutting-edge of conservation translocations, by developing a new framework to create practical routes to translocation success for hihi. Our work is crucial, not only for hihi, but for improving the success of all wildlife conservation translocations globally, through providing a uniquely detailed case-study that's over thirty years old.   

    Surprising way we monitor hihi reintroductions

    Hihi male displaying
    Stichbird (hihi) on a branch

    Hihi recovery  

    The journey of recovery began in 1980 and has been carefully recorded ever since. This has given the ZSL Institute of Zoology invaluable data to develop a better conservation approach for these small birds. We have implemented a proactive and evidence-based approach combining careful monitoring and adaptive management. Together, we have achieved a substantial boost to number of populations, and we’re continuing to innovate our approach.   

    Our evidence based conservation approach:  

    Goal 1: Finding sites favourable to the establishment of unmanaged or managed hihi populations and reintroduce hihi to these.  

    Goal 2: Optimising management to allow re-introduced hihi populations to persist in otherwise unsuitable habitats.  

    Goal 3: Develop a strategy for ongoing exchanges among hihi populations to ensure genetic viability while managing disease transmission risks.  

    Goal 4: Establishing a unified national approach to hihi management.  

    Hihi chicks in nest with fluffy heads
    Male hihi singing
    © Eric Wilson

    Helping life everywhere  

    Our involvement isn’t just great news for hihi, we’re helping reframe wildlife conservation translocation programmes globally. Our work is becoming a case-study to restore diversity of life everywhere, whether it be reintroducing tiny dormice or translocating greater-one-horned rhino.   

    Our bird conservation

    • Guam kingfisher (Sihek) sitting on branch
      The Guam kingfisher that was wiped out by snakes

      Sihek conservation

      We're creating solutions to save the sihek from the jaws of extinction - as invasive snakes outnumber people in Guam by 10 to 1.

    • Olive white-eye bird
      Saving the rarest bird in Mauritius

      Olive white-eye conservation

      With less than 150 pairs now remaining, our work is saving a species on the brink of extinction.

    • Mauritius kestrel in tree
      One of the most successful bird recoveries in the world

      Mauritius kestrel conservation

      The Mauritius Kestrel once looked destined for extinction, with just 4 remaining individuals. But we are building an exciting route to recovery.

    • Fairy tern from New Zealand landing on beach.
      New Zealand’s rarest indigenous breeding bird

      Fairy tern conservation

      Creating a route to recovery for New Zealand’s rarest indigenous breeding bird. Each potential loss is vital, with fewer than 40 individuals remaining and just 9 breeding pairs left.

    • Red kite flying - identifying fork tail clearly visible
      Driving a resurgence

      Red kite conservation

      We are protecting red kites to ensure their numbers never crash again, by providing expert health surveillance and supporting reintroductions.

    • A puffin on Skellig Michael crag
      Recovering native birds

      Conserving native birds

      Our work protecting some of the most iconic birds across the UK, including sea eagles, puffins, corncrakes and hen harriers

    • Pink pigeon in Mauritius
      Cutting-edge conservation in action

      Pink pigeon recovery program 

      From just a dozen individuals to hundreds - their story proves that together anything is possible.

    • Bird conservation
    Stand up for nature

    Today, as human activities push our planet to its limits, evidence-based conservation translocations are more vital than ever. Subscribe for updates on our conservation translocation projects that are restoring wildlife across the world.