Raw sugar in a sugar solution helps keep these special rare Stitchbirds going in leaner times, particularly over the winter and when natural food sources are scarce, whether it be for reasons of poor weather or fierce competition from other birds for feed.
Tiritiri Matangi have many endangered species including Takahe, Kokako, Bellbird, Saddleback, Stitchbird, Little Spotted Kiwi, Brown Teal, Fernbird, Brown Quail, Whiteheads, Kaka and the much loved Kereru (Wood Pigeon) and Tui.
Replanting and regeneration of bush has enabled these bird populations to be reintroduced to the island and they are now increasing in good numbers. Recently reptiles including the Tuatara, Shore Skink and Duvacellis Gecko have also been reintroduced to Tiri.
The Stitchbird or Hihi (which translates in Maori, "Ray of Sunshine", alluding to the yellow wings of the male) was once thought to be a member of the nectar eating family. However recent international research has proved that the Stitchbird is not a honey eater like the Bellbird and Tui, and has no close relatives anywhere, making it a unique species found only in New Zealand.Like the two New Zealand nectar eaters, the Tui and the Bellbird, they feed on a mixture of nectar, fruit, and insects. The Stitchbird has a curved bill and a long tongue, frayed at the end like a brush, which is used to reach deeply into flowers and drink nectar.
The Stitchbird is kept at the bottom of the pecking order by the nectar eaters and will only be permitted to feed on low-grade sources of nectar when the Tui and Bellbird are also present. On Tiritiri Matangi their diet is supplemented with nectar water made with Chelsea Raw Sugar placed in feeding stations located in areas frequented by Stitchbirds.
The Stitchbird is sexually dimorphic, the males being larger and more colourful than the female. The male has a velvety black head, upper breast and back, with white tufts behind the eyes, a bright yellow border across the breast and folded wings, with pale brown underparts. The female is a greyish brown with white wingbars.
Unlike the Tui and Bellbird, the Stitchbird has many unusual features such as making its nest in tree holes, a practice not normally associated with nectar feeding species. It is also New Zealand's only known polygynandrous breeding bird, whereby two or more males and two or more females nest together. The adult male has a loud explosive whistle 'see-si-ip' and both sexes give the familiar loud 'stitch' note. They also have a penetrating alarm call 'yeng-yeng-yeng', similar to the Bellbird's but higher pitched.
Stitchbirds have been extinct on the mainland since 1885 and now survive on just a few outlying islands. Between 1885 and 1980 they survived only on Little Barrier Island. Stitchbirds were first released on Tiri in 1995 and have successfully bred. The population on Tiri is now 120 birds, with a total population of around 3239 in New Zealand. Breeding has been so successful on due in part to the supplementary feeding program that transfers from Tiri have been made to other sanctuaries in NZ such as Karori in Wellington and the Ark in the park in the Waitakere ranges in Auckland, thus helping to improve the chances of survival for this special endangered bird.
Conservation Status: Protected Threatened Endemic
Mainland Status: Extinct
Size: 18cm, 40g (males), 30g (females)
Life Span: circa 7 Years
Breeding: September - March
Diet: Mainly nectar and fruit, some invertebrates
First introduced to Tiri: 37 birds, 4 breeding females in 1995
Population on Tiri: Approx 120 July 2007
Total Populations elsewhere: Around 3000 Little Barrier Island, 100 other islands
About Tirirtiri Matangi Island
Located 30km north east of central Auckland and just 4km from the end of Whangaparaoa Peninsula, Tiritiri Matangi Island is one of New Zealand's most important and exciting conservation projects. 120 years of farming saw this 220-hectare island stripped of 94% of its native bush but between 1984 and 1994, volunteers planted between 250,000 and 300,000 trees. The island is now 60% forested. The remaining 40% will be left as grassland for species such as the Takahe. In conjunction with this planting programme, all mammalian predators have been eradicated and a number of species of threatened and endangered birds have been successfully introduced. Nowhere else in New Zealand can you readily walk amongst so many species in such significant quantities. Ferries depart from both Gulf Harbour and downtown Auckland allowing 150 visitors per day to visit the island. This is in addition to any private craft that may land. For ornithologically minded people, no visit to Auckland would be complete without a trip to Tiritiri Matangi.
It’s people who donate time and energy into making Tiritiri Matangi the wonderful experience that it is. If you’d like to join as a supporter for only $20 per year please click here to visit their website.
Special thanks to Peter Craw for permission to use his photographs.