New Zealand robin and tomtits

Generally speaking, says, Buller, in New Zealand, it is only on the outskirts of the woods that we meet with insessorial birds in any number. As we penetrate into the heart of the forest, the birds become fewer, till at length they almost entirely disappear. But there is one species, whose range seems to be quite without restraint: common enough in the open coppice, it is to be found also in the gloomiest and most secluded parts of the forest. I have been assured by officers who accompanied the celebrated Taranaki Expedition under Major–General Sir Trevor Chute, in 1866, that during that long and irksome march the Robin was the only bird that gave any sign of life to those interminable and gloomy forests through which the army passed. The lively twitter and song of smaller birds had ended with the first day’s march, the harsh cry of the Kaka, which had attended them far into the bush, had gradually ceased to be heard, and the wood pigeon, whose range extends to the summits of the low wooded ridges of the interior, was no longer to be met with. An oppressive silence reigned around them, broken only by the shrill chirp of the startled Robin as the advance guard cut a path for the troops through hitherto untrodden woods. Indeed the presence of this little bird was the only exception to the utter absence of animal life, and almost the only relief to the monotony of the march. Perched on a low branch, it might frequently be seen looking gravely down, as if in silent wonderment, on the weary ranks, as they toiled their way through this virgin forest in the very heart of the enemy’s country.

As the popular name implies, it is naturally as tame bird; and in little frequented parts of the country it is so fearless and unsuspicious of man that it will approach to within a yard of the traveller, and sometimes even perch on his head or shoulder. It is the favourite companion of the lonesome woodcutter, enlivening him with its cheerful notes; and when, sitting on a log, he partakes of his humble meal, it hops at his feet, like the traditional Robin, to pick up the crumbs.

Like its namesake in the old country, moreover, it is noisy, active, and cheerful. Its note is generally the first to herald the dawn, while it is the last to be hushed when evening shades bring gloom to the forest. But there is a noticeable difference between the morning and the evening performance; the former consists of notes commencing very high and running down to a low key, uttered in quick succession, and with all the energy of a challenge to the rest of the feathered tribe; and I have sometimes heard Maori, when listening to this strain, exclaim, “Ka kanga te manu ra!”, (how that bird swears), The evening performance is merely a short chirping note, quickly repeated, and with a rather melancholy sound.Three or four of them will sometimes join in a chirping chorus, and continue it till the shades of advancing twilight have deepened into night.

It lives almost entirely on small insects and the worms and grubs which are to be found among decaying leaves and other vegetable matter. Its nature is pugnacious and, in pairing season, the male birds often engage in sharp encounters with each other.

It generally breeds in the months of October and November. It constructs a large and compact nest, composed externally of coarse moss firmly interwoven and thickly lined inside with the soft hair like substance which covers the young stems of the tree–fern. It is usually built against the bole of a tree, at a moderate elevation from the ground, being often found attached to and supported by the wiry stems of the kiekie.

Should the nest happen to be molested after the young are hatched, the parent birds manifest the utmost solicitude, hopping about near the intruder with outspread and quivering wings, uttering a low piping note, and showing every symptom of real distress.

rifleman and bush wren
Eopsaltriidae (Petroicidae).
Sub Species:
longipes, australis, rakiura.

Other common names:  — 

Description:  — 

Endemic bird

18 cm., 35 g., dark grey with long thin legs, the male North Island robin, almost black with white spot above bill and pale grey lower breast, female and juveniles similar but greyer; male South Island, dark grey upper parts and upper chest, yellowish white lower chest and belly, white spot above bill, female and juveniles simliar with more grey on breast; Stewart Island similar to North island bird.

Where to find:  — 

North Island robin, longipes, apart from good populations on Little Barrier and Kapiti Islands, are now found in a narrow band across the central North Island from Tarankai to the Bay of Plenty. The South Island robin, australis, are quite common north of Authur’s Pass National Park, in Buller, Nelson and coastal Marlborough, but are patchily distributed in southern parts. The Stewart Island robin, rakiura is quite common.

Youtube video  — 

»»»  Robin

Credit for the photograph: —

Illustration description: — 


Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1888.

Reference(s): — 


Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1888.

Page date & version: — 


Thursday, 5 June 2014; ver2009v1


©  2005    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.