Common Wildlife

The wildlife on Tiritiri Matangi is a mix of creatures that have either arrived here by their own accord, or been translocated from nearby islands such as Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island. This has created a population that reflects what the island's original inhabitants would have been.

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

Gradually introduced from the 1990s, many of these threatened populations are now thriving on the island. With limited space on Tiritiri, some species have reached their capacity, so the Tiri Supporters are 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 tīeke/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. 

Kōkako

This grey bird’s mournful call can often be heard before they’re seen on the island. Stubby winged, the kōkako is known to only fly short distances, so it is best to look for them 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 mewing 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.

Tīeke (Saddleback)

These lively birds with a distinctive chestnut-brown saddle were translocated onto the island in 1984, and they quickly established a healthy population. 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 nine sites around New Zealand, including Maungatautari and Auckland Zoo.

Tiritiri can lay claim to having the longest-lived tīeke known, which reached the grand old age of 21. She had outlived two mates and was on to her third!

If you want to track down a tīeke, listen out for its distinctive alarm-like call which belies its gentle nature.

Takahē

A small population of these endangered big blue birds can be found around the lighthouse and the northern part of the island, snacking on fresh grass roots. Originally two males – called Mr Blue and Stormy – were translocated to Tiritiri for advocacy purposes in 1991. Despite being partnerless they showed clucky behaviour, so they were gifted an egg by the Wildlife Service, which they successfully hatched. Since then there have been a number of translocations of breeding and advocacy birds.

One particularly friendly bird, Greg, was known to meet the ferry, go to the beach, frequent the Visitor Centre and even supervise working weekend projects! In fact, his footprint can be found around in the concrete near the bunkhouse. Takahē is the only bird species that wouldn’t naturally be found on the island. 

Wētapunga (Giant Weta)

Weighing in at the size of a mouse or a sparrow, adult wētāpunga provide a sizeable insect snack, 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 Butterfly Creek and Auckland Zoo, wētāpunga are making a comeback. Tiritiri received its first translocation of wētāpunga in 2011, with top-up translocations since then. 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, kānuka, maire, and smaller trees such as mānuka as its host in the larval stage. Puriri moths may emerge at any time of the year, though are most commonly seen between October and December.

Duvaucel’s Gecko

Perfectly camouflaged in green and grey, the Duvaucel’s Gecko is New Zealand’s largest gecko.

First established on Tiritiri in 2006, with a top-up in 2013, these geckos have bred successfully and have dispersed across the island. The use of tracking tunnels, fitted with an ink pad and white paper to record footprints, 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 reptiles can often 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 the few natural predators on the island. Their diet is largely made up of insects, though it is known to supplement this with birds and reptiles, particularly when feeding chicks.

Old trees filled with holes make prime nesting sites for ruru, though given that much of the forest on Tiritiri 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. In summer look out for the moon-like eyes of their young who can be seen, sometimes huddled together, roosting. 

Titipounamu (Rifleman)

Many people come to the island with the desire to see this bird, as it is 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)

Tiritiri’s population of these small inquisitive birds are part of New Zealand’s longest population study, which will help scientists learn more about these forest birds.

Initially translocated in 1992, they have dispersed across the island. A large part of their diet is insects, so don’t be fooled by their apparent friendliness – they are interested in the bugs you may have disturbed when you walk by. They also will tremble one leg to encourage their insect prey to move to the surface.

Hihi

Translocated to Tiritiri in 1995, hihi were once widespread throughout the North Island, but predation and habitat loss has devastated their population and range.

Males are easily identifiable with their yellow striped wings, though the females are more demure. Females can sometimes be mistaken for a bellbird – just look for the distinctive cocked tail of the hihi.

The male’s bright yellow stripe across his wing is actually a good indication of  health. A study on Tiritiri has shown how hihi health is directly related to the availability of carotenoids – the yellow pigment that colours coprosma, māhoe and ti kouka/cabbage tree fruits.

As well as being some of the brightest birds on the island, the hihi can lay claim to being the most caring parents because they are known to forage for feathers in order to cover their eggs in the nest.

Kiwi Pukupuku  (Little Spotted Kiwi)

First released in 1993, this small population of kiwi pukupuku/little spotted kiwi can be seen foraging for food at night. Tiritiri is known to have produced one of the weightiest females of this species, who broke the scales at 2kg when weighed 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