Stormy weather doesn’t deter small bird from returning to Waitakere Ranges

09 Mar 2011

 Despite severe disruptions by the stormy weather over the weekend, 50 whitehead or popokatea from Tiritiri Matangi Island were caught early this week and released at Ark in the Park in the Waitakere Ranges this week.

Photo: Steve Attwood

Photo: Steve Attwood

This release was a concerted effort by Forest & Bird, the Auckland Council, Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi, DOC, Te Kawerau a Maki, Ngati Manuhiri and many Ark in the Park volunteers, with 360 Discovery Cruises providing transport to and from Tiritiri Matangi.

“The catching expedition almost had to be cancelled with prolonged storm warnings making it impossible to get to Tiritiri Matangi for several days over the weekend. Once there, however, we caught all the birds before the weather had a chance to close in again,” said Team Leader Andy Warneford from Ark in the Park.

The sparrow-sized bird has been locally extinct from the Auckland and Northland region since the 1900s, so this top-up of birds will help to re-establish this bird to the region.

Whitehead have been released in the Ark in the Park before, in 2005 and 2008, and small numbers of them have been seen around the Ark in the Park.

Project manager for Ark in the Park, Dr Maj De Poorter, says the release is part of a ten-year plan to restore the whitehead population in this area to its former glory.
“Ongoing predator control to get rid of rats, stoats, possums and feral cats, allows our native birds to thrive.”

“We couldn’t do any of this without our many volunteers though, they are the backbone of our project, putting in more that 8000 hours every year,” she says.


  • Whitehead are found in native forest and older exotic forest in the North Island mainland and on a few offshore islands.
  • They are often seen hanging upside down to feed on insects.
  • They form large flocks in the upper canopy of trees – this is a tactic used by insect feeders to disrupt the insects and create a bountiful feeding ground.
  • Maori folklore believed the whitehead to be a messenger between man and the gods. It is a very tapu (sacred) bird
  • Young birds are raised by a group of adults. They are able to breed at one year old, but when population densities are high, most young birds delay breeding and act as helpers instead.
  • Males have a white head, pale brown body and black legs, bill and eyes. Females and juveniles have a brownish white head. They are slightly smaller than a sparrow.
  • Whitehead play host to the threatened long-tailed cuckoo. The cuckoo lays its eggs in the whitehead’s nest, and when it hatches, the young bird evicts the host’s eggs and chicks and is then raised alone. The whiteheads continue to feed the cuckoo even though it is about three times as long as them and about nine times their weight.
  • The Ark in the Park is a Community driven open sanctuary at the Cascade Kauri in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, close to Auckland City. This community based project is a partnership between Forest and Bird (Waitakere Branch) and the Auckland Council, supported by Kawerau a Maki and made possible by the large volunteer input (close to 8000 hours per year)
  • •The project started in January 2003 and the aim is to allow the restoration of a functioning native ecosystem through intensive pestcontrol. With regards to native species management, there are two complimentary aspects to recovery: reintroduction of native species that were lost, and adaptive management of native species that survived.
  • Ark in the park gratefully acknowledges the funding for its overall work from major sponsors ASB Community Trust and The Trusts Charitable Foundation (Inc), and from the Birdlife International Community Fund, Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund, , and Zelda Roberts Charitable Trust. Specific support for whitehead reintroduction has been received from the Guardian Trust, and 360 Discovery Cruises.