Keeping an eye on hihi

By: John Stewart

A group of 40 hihi, also known as stitchbirds, became the most recent addition to the birds living in Shakespear Regional Park when they were transferred from Tiritiri Matangi on July 3. We are keen to keep a close watch on these new birds to see how well they do in their new environment.

Three cages containing sugar water feeders have been set up at key locations in the bush to provide extra food and to encourage the birds to stay inside the predator-proof fence where they are safe from mammalian predators. Before release, the birds were given a unique set of plastic colour bands so they can be individually recognised. Each bird also has one of its colour bands modified to contain a tiny transponder similar to those used to ‘microchip’ domestic pets. The sugar water cages have a wire detector coil wrapped around the entrance holes which can read the identity number held on the transponder.

This is part of an initiative to find and test effective ways to monitor hihi and the outcome so far has been spectacularly successful.

In the first week after release, 39 of the birds were detected using the sugar water feeders. One hungry male made an astounding 173 visits in one day. Thankfully, after a couple of weeks, number 40 also appeared at one of the feeders.

At first, nearly all the records were from the feeder located near to where the birds were released in the Defence Force’s land but more recently there have been records at both the Kowhai Glen and Waterfall Gully feeders. Five of the birds have visited all three feeders. We anticipate that, as the birds explore and find natural food sources, they will come to rely less on the feeders.

One of the mysteries around hihi is that it is difficult for them to survive and breed successfully without supplementary sugar water feeding. The only place they are living without this help is on Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island.

Hihi can be difficult to spot but are easy to hear. Check what they sound like on the website NZ Birds Online.

After last year’s successful fund-raising concert, Gulf Harbour Country Club will host another event, this time titled Summer Sounds – Live on the Green with an exciting lineup featuring The Remnants of Hello Sailor and JT and the SAXman. The concert will be held on November 22 and tickets will be on sale soon at


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