The Goodies - Fiordland's Unique Fauna

Yellowhead (Mohua)

The mohua (Mohoua ochrocephala) or yellowhead is a small, insect eating bird which lives only in the forests of New Zealand’s South Island and Stewart Island. A beautiful splash of bright yellow covers its head and breast while the rest of the body is brown with varying tinges of yellow and olive. The female is slightly less brightly coloured than the male.

In the 1800s, the mohua was one of the most abundant and conspicuous of our forest birds, now it is the most threatened of its genus, Mohoua, which also includes the whitehead and the brown creeper. Unlike the other two members of its genus, the mohua has disappeared from large, relatively unchanged forests and is continuing to decline.

Once mohua inhabited podocarp-hardwood forests (such as rimu, totara and miro). Now they are found only in beech forests with fertile soils where they can find plenty of food. When Europeans first arrived in New Zealand the species was still plentiful, but forest clearances and the introduction of new predators such as rats, stoats and possums all had a devastating effect on mohua survival. By 1900, the bird was disappearing from many of its traditional areas.

Yellowhead/mohua prefer to feed high in the trees although they will feed on the ground.

While the female is in sole charge of the lengthy process of incubation, after the chicks hatch both parents spend a comparatively long period of time caring for the chicks.

As with virtually all of New Zealand's threatened birds, habitat destruction has been a major cause of decline and many of our forests are still threatened with either clear felling or modification by selective logging.

Although the majority of forests where the mohua live are protected, even within these areas populations are still declining due to predation, forest browsing by possums and deer, and competition with introduced birds. The introduced vespulid wasp also competes with mohua for insects and honeydew and the wasp may have contributed to the bird's disappearance from beech honeydew forests in the northern South Island.