The Goodies - Fiordland's Unique Fauna

Saddleback (Tieke)

The saddleback or tīeke belongs to New Zealand's unique wattlebird family (Callaeidae), an ancient group which includes the endangered kōkako and the extinct huia. It is a medium sized bird, and adults of both sexes have similar plumage. The bird's main feature is a conspicuous chestnut-coloured saddle on its back, but it also has chestnut on the tip of its tail, a black bill, black legs, and orange, "fleshy" wattles either side of its throat.

There are two sub-species: North Island saddleback (Philesturnus carunculatus rufusater) and South Island saddleback (P.c.carunculatus). All saddlebacks are extinct on the mainland, and live either in captivity or on islands. The most endangered of the two species is the South Island saddleback, with only 650 birds in existence. Saddlebacks are found mostly in the middle and lower layers of the forest, usually on the ground, probing through dead wood and leaf litter for weta, grubs and other insects. They also eat fruits of various forest trees, such as kawakawa and coprosma.

Saddlebacks were once widespread throughout New Zealand's mainland and island forests. Their decline began in the mid 19th century, caused by forest clearance and introduced predators such as ship rats, feral cats and stoats. By this century, both species were close to extinction. South Island saddlebacks were limited to three islands: Big South Cape, Pukeweka, and Soloman Islands (near Stewart Island), while the North Island species was restricted to Hen Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

•Young South Island saddleback/tīeke (less than 15 months old) have a different plumage from adults. They are entirely dark brown with smaller wattles. The imprint of the saddle forms by the end of the second moult. Juveniles are known as "jack-birds".

•North Island birds assume a "saddleback" marking before they leave the nest. Saddlebacks are very vocal birds. The males have a repertoire of melodious calls that they use during mating and in territorial disputes.

•The male has larger wattles than the female.

•Size: 25cm; males 80g, females 70g.