Popokotea, or whitehead


August 2004 and 2005 whiteheads (popokotea) from Tiritiri Matangi Island were released into the Ark in the Park, and have been seen regularly, but infrequently, since. So far observations in the Waitakeres have been of single birds or pairs, but in established areas they often congregate in small flocks. They favour small trees on the edges of the forest.

A pair bred over 2004/05 season in a predator controlled area near Karekare, and in March 2011 a flock has now been sighted for the first time in the Cascades.

Photograph: Simon Fordham / NaturePix

Audio file: www.whatbird.co.nz


§  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.

© Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand Inc. Ark in the Park Project Website. All rights reserved.