22 Apr 2024

Rarely seen titipounamu spotted in Wellington

10:26 am on 22 April 2024
The rifleman is New Zealand's smallest bird.

The rifleman is New Zealand's smallest bird. Photo: CC BY-SA 2.0 digital trails/Flickr

A bird species rarely seen in the capital is believed to still be lingering around after being spotted in the Wellington suburb of Ngaio.

While titipounamu, or rifleman, is common in some parts of the country, in the capital, they disappeared over a century ago due to human activity and predator species.

Sixty birds were relocated from Wainuiomata Mainland Island to the eco-sanctuary in 2019 to re-establish a population in Wellington.

In 2021, the birds were found 3km from Zealandia (where they originated) in Te Ahumairangi Reserve for the first time in 100 years.

And this month, titipounamu have been seen in Ngaio - even further from Zealandia.

Predator Free Ngaio spokesperson Judie Alison told Morning Report it showed the benefits of having every suburb in Wellington engaged in trapping, as well as having corridors of trees and bush for the birds to move through.

"There was a lot more predation in the past, now we have a lot of conrol, both in the reserves in Wellington, but also in households.

"If you know the northern suburbs of Wellington, there are a lot of native trees across the suburbs."

The birds are in the Ngaio Gorge, which is not far from Wellington City, and the bird has been tracked from the Ngaio Gorge itself, to up above the Gorge.

Alison believed the titipounamu, which did not fly very far, must be breeding or moving in very small hops.

"If anyone knows Ngaio, it's up in the bush area around the reservoir up the top over looking Ngaio.

"I think the next thing it will probably do is move to Khandallah."

Its size was what made the bird so special, she said.

"It is so, so small. It's smaller than the grey warbler, it's smaller than the wax-eye. And it almost doesn't look like a bird, because it hasn't got much tail at all, it looks like a wee ball of feathers.

"Apparently, the chicks look like bumble bees with that sort of roundness."

The titipounamu is no longer considered to be of high concern and is now in the moderate to low concern category.

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