Story: Small forest birds
Page 7 – Whiteheads, yellowheads and brown creepers
These three small insect-eaters belong to a subfamily that is only found in New Zealand, Mohouinae. They tend to flock when feeding, usually high in the forest canopy, and have tuneful songs. All are at risk of having long-tailed cuckoo eggs laid in their nests.
The whitehead or pōpokotea (Mohoua albicilla) is a North Island bird with a white head, pale body, and brown wings and tail. On average they are 15 centimetres long; males weigh 18.5 grams and females 14.5 grams. Found in native and exotic forests, whiteheads have gone from some areas but are still widespread. They are abundant on predator-free islands, including Kapiti and Little Barrier.
Whiteheads build a nest in the forest canopy or lower shrubs. Young birds from earlier clutches often help raise chicks.
The yellowhead, bush canary or mōhua (Mohoua ochrocephala) lives in the South Island and on Stewart Island. Yellowheads are 15 centimetres long; males weigh 30 grams, females 25 grams. They are bright yellow with a brown back, wings and tail.
Yellowheads nest in tree holes, usually in beech trees. These are easier for predators to reach than whitehead nests, and the narrow entrance makes it difficult for the birds to escape. So yellowheads have disappeared from 85% of their range, including Stewart Island. There are remnant populations in Fiordland and other small pockets of the Southern Alps and Catlins. Some have been moved to sanctuaries around the South Island – Ulva, Breaksea and Nukuwaiata islands, and islands in southern lakes.
The brown creeper or pīpipi (Mohoua novaeseelandiae) of the South Island and Stewart Island is the smallest of the three Mohoua species – 13 centimetres long. Males weigh 13.5 grams, females 11 grams. The head and back are brown, with a grey face and neck. Brown creeper numbers have fallen, but they remain in many areas of the Southern Alps, Nelson, Marlborough, Kaikōura, Banks Peninsula and the Catlins, living in exotic pine forest and scrub as well as mature native forest. Young birds move from tree to tree in flocks of up to 50, chorusing their sweet ‘peee–pee–pee’ call.