Common Wildlife

The wildlife on Tiritiri Matangi is made up of a mix of creatures that have either flown here by their own accord or been boxed up from nearby islands such as Hauturu and transplanted to create a population that reflects its original inhabitants.

The island holds precious populations of kokako,saddleback and tuatara that can’t be seen anywhere else around the Auckland region, so glimpsing these rare animals is a highlight for many visitors. 

Introduced steadily from the 1990s, many of these threatened populations are now thriving on the island and some have reached carrying capacity, so the Supporters’ have been heavily involved in translocating birds off the island to seed populations in newly established sanctuaries. 

Many of these species have large territories, so spotting a rare kokako or saddleback will take some detective work and a dose of good luck. Listed below are some of the species that you may want to look for on your trip to the island. 

Kokako

This grey bird’s mournful call can often be heard before they’re seen on the island. Stubby winged, the kokako is known to only fly short distances, so best look for these hopping around the branches. First translocated in 1997 and again in 2007, the birds produce a number of sounds including soft clucks and cat-like mewig notes. As a managed population, the love lives of these birds is carefully monitored and although typically they mate for life, volunteers have noted that divorces are relatively common, especially after translocations.

Tieke (Saddleback)

These chestnut-brown saddled birds were one of the first birds to be translocated onto the island in 1984, and they quickly established a healthy population. Once widely found around the North island, they were reduced to around 500 birds on Hen island. Tiritiri can lay claim to having the known longest-lived bird which lived to the grand old age of 21. She had outlived two mates and was on to her third! If you want to track down a tieke, listen out for its distinctive alarm-like call which belies its gentle nature. After initially having a few bumper baby years which saw couples producing four clutches a season, two clutches are now typical as the population has reached capacity on the island. Thanks to this healthy population, birds have been transferred to  9 sites around New Zealand including Maungatautari to Auckland Zoo.

Takahē

A small population of these endangered big blue birds can be found around the bunkhouse and Northern half of the island snacking on fresh grass roots.  Two males – Mr Blue and Stormy – were translocated to Tiritiri for the advocacy purposes in 1991 and despite being partner-less showed clucky behaviour, so they were gifted an egg by the Wildlife Service. Since then, there have been a number of translocations of breeders and advocacy birds. One particularly friendly bird, Greg, was known to frequent the bunkhouse and supervise painting projects. In fact, his footprint can be found around the bunkhouse. This is the only bird that wouldn’t be naturally found on the island. 

Wētapunga (Giant Weta)

Weighing in at the size of a mouse, adult wētapunga provided a sizable insect snack for mammalian pests and due to predation its range was reduced to just Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island. It was previously distributed throughout Northland and Auckland, including the islands in the Hauraki Gulf.  However, as part of a DOC recovery programme and thanks to breeding programmes at Auckland Zoo and Butterfly Creek, wētapunga are making a comeback after introductions to Tiritiri, Motuora Island, the Noises Islands and Motuihe Island. In 2011, Tiritiri received its first translocation of wētapunga, with three further translocations in 2014, 2015 and 2018. Monitoring shows that they are thriving and spreading across the island.

Puriri Moth

The puriri moth is NZ’s largest native winged insect. It spends 6 years in a larval stage in tree trunks and emerges as a large green moth in its last week of life. As well as occupying the puriri tree, it is known to use native beech, titoki, kanuka and maire and smaller trees such as manuka as its host in the larval stage. Puriri moths may emerge at any time of the year, though are most commonly seen between October to December.

Duvaucel’s Gecko

Perfectly camouflaged in green and grey, the Duvaucel Gecko is New Zealand’s largest gecko. First established in 2006 with a top up in 2013, these geckos have bred successfully and have dispersed across the island. Tracking tunnels fitted with white paper and an ink pad at one end gives volunteers a good indication of the state of the population.

Tuatara

These dinosaur age creatures were brought to the island in 2003 and since then have established a small population. Although not a common sight for daytime visitors, these nocturnal creatures can be spotted at night. Equipped with large claws, tuatara are  capable of making their own burrows, though they are known to co-habit with seabirds such as grey faced petrels which nest around the coast, as well as with kiwi.

Ruru

The last surviving native owl, the ruru is one of few predators on the island. Their diet is largely made up of insects, though it is known to supplement its diet with birds and reptile particularly when feeding chicks. Old trees filled with holes make prime nesting sites for ruru, though given that much of the forest is new, they have taken to nesting in the root systems of trees or inside rotting cabbage trees.  If you’re staying overnight listen out for the onomatopoeic ‘morepork’ call which can be heard from afar. They screech a repeated ‘cree’ when hunting. Around summer look out for the moon-like eyes of their young who can be found – sometimes huddled together – alongside the tracks. 

Titipounamu (Rifleman)

Many people come to the island with the desire to clap eyes on this bird as it’s the only publicly accessible place to see them in the Auckland region. Thirty one of these tiny birds were transferred onto the island in 2009, followed by two further translocations,  Now there are more than 80 known pairs that have spread throughout the island. Unfortunately their high-frequency, low-volume calls are beyond the hearing range of many people, so you’ll need beady eyes to see them.

Toutouwai (North Island Robin)

These small inquisitive birds are one of the most studied birds on the island. 

Initially transferred in 1992 they have dispersed across the island.A large part of their diet is insects and the human footfall typically disturbs insects, so don’t be fooled by their  apparent friendliness. They also will tremble one leg to encourage their prey to move to the surface. The North Island robin on Tiritiri are part of New Zealand’s longest population study which ultimately will help scientists to learn more about these forest birds.

Hihi

Translocated to Tiritiri in 1995, the hihi were once widespread throughout the North Island though predation and habitat loss has devastated their population and range. The males are easily identifiable with its yellow striped wings, though the females are more demure. 

In fact, they can sometimes be mistaken for a bellbird – just look for the cocked tail. The male’s bright yellow stripe across his wing is actually a good indication of  health. Indeed, a study on Tiri has shown how hihi health is directly related to the availability of carotenoids – the yellow pigment that colours coprosma, mahoe and cabbage tree fruits. As well as being some of the brightest birds on the island, the hihi can lay claim to being most caring parents as they’re known to forage for feathers in order to cover their eggs.

Kiwi Pukupuku  (Little Spotted Kiwi)

First released in 1993, this small population can be found foraging for food on overnight stays. Tiritiri is known to have produced one of the weightiest females, who broke the scales at 2kg in 1997. In the wild around 90% of kiwi chicks die within the first six months due to predation by cats and stoats, so Tiritiri provides a welcome sanctuary and a much needed insurance population.

If you wish to learn more about the wildlife on the island, check out our wildlife directory which contains an exhaustive list of birds, reptiles, plants and rare insects on the island.

Wildlife Directory