Songbirds released into the Waitakeres

Around 70 whiteheads (popokatea) were released today into the Ark in the Park open sanctuary in the Waitakere Ranges.

The tiny native birds became extinct in Auckland and Northland in the early 1900s, but several reintroductions from Tiritiri Matangi Island in the Hauraki Gulf have allowed the return of an Auckland mainland population.

Around 30 volunteers working for both Ark in the Park and Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi caught the birds on Tiritiri Matangi Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

The birds were caught using mist nets and were then released into two sites in the Ark in the Park area to maximise the chances of the birds finding a suitable habitat.

“We’ve developed a long-term strategic plan in collaboration of DOC, so there will be whitehead top-ups into the Ark for five to 10 years,” says Ark in the Park Manager, Maj De Poorter.
A total of 155 whiteheads have been previously released in the Ark in the Park, in 2005, 2008 and 2011, and many of these birds have bred.

 “These sparrow-sized birds occupy the middle of canopy, so they’re hard to see with the naked eye. However, they’re bold, clear singers, so you can sometimes hear them in the Ark,” says Maj De Poorter. 

The release is a combined project 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.

Ark in the Park gratefully acknowledges the funding for its overall work from major sponsors ASB Community Trust and The Trusts Community Foundation, and from the Birdlife International Community Fund, the Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund, and Zelda Roberts Charitable Trust.


  • Whiteheads 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 disturb the insects and make them easier to find and catch.
  • Maori folklore held the whitehead is a messenger between humans 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.
  • Whiteheads 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 Cascade Kauri in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, close to Auckland city. The project is a partnership between Forest & Bird (Waitakere Branch) and the Auckland Council, supported by Te Kawerau a Maki iwi and made possible by the large volunteer support (close to 8000 hours a year).
  • The project started in January 2003 and the aim is to allow the restoration of a functioning native ecosystem through intensive pest control.