The South Island saddleback was collected by Forster at Queen Charlotte Sound during Cook's second voyage. Forster observed the two phases of the species but supposed the brown birds were the females and young. From Forster's drawings and notes, Latham described the wattled stare and this was adopted by Gmelin when founding the binominal name. The saddleback was also collected at Queen Charlotte Sound during Cook's third voyage and a drawing of it made by Ellis. When the Astrolabe visited New Zealand in 1827, Quoy and Gaimard collected specimens at Tasman Bay and correctly determined the brown forms to be the young, stating that the male and female adults were both coloured alike.
The North Island saddleback is doubtless the starling that Crozet mentions during his stay in the Bay of Islands in 1772, according to Oliver. Specimens were obtained in the same locality in 1824 by Lesson, naturalist to the Coquille. The young of the North Island saddleback are similar in colour to the adults though duller.
Around 1882, Thomas Henry Potts writes; “The saddleback, which a few years since was commonly met with in the more thickly wooded portions of Banks Peninsula, is now of rare occurence there. The extensive area of growing timber at the Little Bush River will probably be its last refuge in that part of the country, so rapidly is the Banks Peninsula becoming disforested.
“Although we have met with, and have known of the nest of this striking looking bird in the more open parts of the forest, yet it seeks and loves the shady covert of the densest bush, where decaying tree and damp mosses conceal and insect food supply.
“It does not appear to be strong on the wing; we have never seen it attempt a lengthened flight, yet its movements are notably prompt, rapid, and decided. It usualy announces its sudden approach by a shrill note unlike that of any other bird we know. No sooner is this call note heard than the bird emerges from its leavy screen and bounds before the spectator as suddenly as a harlequin in a pantomime. From these abrupt movements, or flying leaps, thus shrilly accompanied, it seems to perform a role of its own that appears almost startling amidst the umbrageous serenity of the bush. Let the eye follow its motions, that are so quickly changed, and watch the Tieke perched for a few moments on the lichen-mottled bole of some fallen tree, a favourite position — its glossy black plumage is relieved from sameness by the quaint saddle mark of deep ferruginous that crosses its back and wings, the red caruncles add much to the sprightliness of its air; the observer will probably notice that its attitude is peculiar, or, in colonial phrase, “it has a queer set on it.” The head and tail are kept rather elevated, the feathers of the tail take a gently sweeping curve, the bird looks as though prepared to leap, one more glance and it is away climbing some moss clothed trunk, or picking its food from beneath the flakes and ragged strips of bark that hang from the brown stemmed fuschia tree.
“The saddleback must be an early breeder. On the Teremakau, we have seen the young, almost adult size, in the first week of December. For its nesting place a hollow or decayed tree is usually selected, sometimes the top of a tree-fern is preferred. The egg is white sprinkled over with faint purplish marks, towards the broad end brownish purple, almost forming one large blotch. The young are protected and fed by the old birds till almost full grown; they are summoned by the parent birds with their usual call, nor from this does the note from their active offspring greatly differ; the saddleback quickly responds to the summoning note of its species. An imitation of the sound by the assistance of a leaf between the lips serves to attract its presence, and sometimes is used by the collector for this purpose.”
In the North Island by 1910, the saddleback had gone but from one offshore Island. About 500 survived on Hen Island. In the South Island, a few survived on islands off Stewart Island. From these birds successful translocations have been made.
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Other common names: —
Jack bird, wattled stare, wattled starling.
25 cm., males 80 g., females 70., head and body glossy black with bright chestnut saddle across back, rump and tail coverts, pendulous orange-red wattles at base of black bill. Young of North Island birds similar to adults but South Island young are plain brown.
Where to find: —
Off shore islands, Hen, Whatupuke, Red Mercury, Cuvier, Lady Alice, Stanley, Kapiti, Little Barrier, Tiritiri Matangi, Mokoia in Lake Rotorua, and Whale Island, off the North Island. In the South Island, islands off Stewart Island, Motuara Island.
Credit for the photograph: —
Illustration description: —
Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1888.
Latham, John, A General Synopsis of Birds, 1795.
Potts, Thomas Henry, Out in the Open, 1882.
Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.
Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.
Page date & version: —
Thursday, 5 June 2014; ver2009v1