2009: New Zealand Honeyeaters


A year ago to the day I had just disembarked on Tiritiri Matangi and was wondering which would be my next new land bird for the trip.

“Only the most obvious and the bird most likely to be seen on the mainland. Indeed, one I had seen both north and south back in 2003, so it wasn’t a lifer. One sassy enough to survive the invading Europeans and big and noisy enough to impinge on the new national consciousness, even to the extent of having a beer named for it. One species, appropriately for my trip’s theme, of the honeyeater family.

“The tui. Sitting between Melithreptus honeyeaters and friarbirds on the taxonomic tree, it occupies that space with New Zealand’s only other member of Meliphagidae and the bird I saw next. But first, I heard it, so distinctive is its call, and so familiar, since it too was a 2003 species. This time though, somewhere by the toilet block…


“I hung around, hoping for a glimpse and trying not to look suspicious. Birders get good at this, given the dodgy places near which they have to loiter. Luck was with me and not one, but two, bellbirds hove into view. Korimako to the Maoris, it looks far more like a honeyeater – a yellow honeyeater although the bellbird is in fact green.

“I had thought that kokako, saddleback and stitchbird were also honeyeaters but the IOC has them in their own families and not particularly nearby ones. The pardalotes, gerygones et al and even the babblers isolate the three species. But more of them later.

“My peregrinations were taking me along the shore and away from the island’s wooded section, where my target passerines lurked. I retraced my steps, peered into the empty little penguin nest boxes on my way and headed uphill to the trees. I didn’t get that far before my next lifer, not a passerine, but a duck.”

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