bellbird nest

Bellbirds are territorial during breeding season but after breeding they are usually nomadic and solitary, moving around to food sources. They are strictly monogamous and pairs remain together for several years, the pair maintaining the same breeding territory each year. They court in winter when the male sings in front of the female. During this display, the male holds its body upright and hovers slowly making a fluttering sound with its wings. After mating they often duet.

The bellbird may breed at one year old. In the bush the bellbird's nest is usually built in a tree or shrub in deep cover but occasionally, as Guthrie Smith observed, it is to be found in a hole in a tree trunk. Guthrie Smith observed on Solomon Island off Stewart Island that a more exposed nesting site would render the nest liable to be destroyed by petrels falling into trees at night during the breeding season.

The female makes the nest which is loosely built of twigs and fibres with a deep cup lined with feathers, moss and fine grass. Potts observed that the feathers in each nest are usually of one bright colour, the green of parakeets, or the red of Kaka.

The female lays up to 5 eggs which are pinkish white with reddish brown splotches chiefly at the larger end. The eggs may be incubated for fourteen days. Incubation is by the female only. The male may feed her on the nest but she will also leave the nest to feed. She may also sing on the nest. They are apparently tenacious defenders of their nests and the female will physically attack an intruder. She has been known to fall to the ground and flap away to distract a predator. Both parents feed the chicks which fledge at around fourteen days. The parents may feed the young birds for a further ten days.The chicks are almost entirely fed on insects. The breeding season extends from September to January during which time two broods may be reared.

According to Buller, “during the breeding–season the parent birds evince much tender solicitude for the safety of their offspring. On leaving the nest, the young have the rictal membrane (at the angles of the mouth) very large and of a bright yellow colour. The old birds hunt for them with untiring industry; and the young brood may be seen perched side by side on a branch patiently waiting for their food, and on the approach of their parents, quivering their wings with excitement, and eagerly gaping their throats, all of them together, to receive the coveted morsel”.

Soon after leaving the nest, the young bellbird learns to sing by copying the songs of its parents or those of neighbouring adults of the same sex.

The phenomenon of local “dialect” in song is clearly exhibited by bellbirds and there are seasonal and sexual differences in song as well. The alarm note of “tink, tink, tink” bears some resemblance to that of the introduced European blackbird.

Buller waxes lyrical about this bird. “But to resume our history of the “Bell–bird”–so–called from the fanciful resemblance of one of its notes to the distant tolling of a bell. Its ordinary song is not unlike that of the Tui or Parson-bird, but is more mellifluous. Its notes though simple are varied and sweetly chimed; and as the bird is of social habits, the morning anthem, in which scores of these sylvan choristers perform together, is a concert of eccentric parts, producing a wild but pleasing melody. When singing it arches its back and puffs out the feathers of the body. I have occasionally heard a solitary Bell-bird pouring forth its liquid notes after the darkness of advancing night had silenced all the other denizens of the grove. It ought to be mentioned, moreover, that both sexes sing. When alarmed or excited they utter a strain of notes which I can only compare to the sound produced by a policeman's rattle quickly revolved. This cry, or the bird-catcher's imitation of it, never fails to attract to the spot all the Bell-birds within hearing.”

 — Narena Olliver, Greytown, 2008

bellbird fledgling
Sub Species:
melanura, obscura, oneho, melanocephala.

Song:  — 

 Viking Sevenseas

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»»»  Song of Korimako

Other common names:  — 

Mocking-Creeper, Mako, Makomako, Komako, Kokomako, Korimako, Kohimako, Kokorimako, Kohorimako, Titimako, and Kopara.

Description:  — 

Endemic bird

20 cm., male 34 g., female 26 g., male olive green, paler underparts, head purplish, tail and wings dark blue black, eye red; female browner with narrow white stripe across cheek, short curved bill.

Where to find:  — 

Common in many parts of the South Island, Stewart and Auckland Islands. Quite common in the eastern Bay of Plenty and off shore islands in the North Island. obscura is confined to the Three Kings Islands; and oneho breeds only on the Poor Knights; melancocephala was confined to the Chatham Islands but became extinct in 1906.

More Information:  — 

»»»  Korimako page

Poetry:  — 

He rite ki te kopara e ko nei i te ata.
Like a bellbird pealing at daybreak.

Hutia te rito o te harakeke
Mai wai te komako e ko?
E patai atu ahau ki a koe,
He aha te mea nui o te Ao?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

When you slice open the heart of the flax plant
Where will the Komako sing?
Let me ask you,
What is the most important thing in this world?
It is people, it is people, it is people.

Credit for the photograph: — 


Kerry Gosling

Illustration description: — 


T H Potts, Transactions of the NZ Institute, Volume 2, 1869.

Reference(s): — 


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

Oliver, W.R.B. New Zealand Birds, 1955.

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

Page date & version: — 


Monday, 26 May 2014; ver2009v1


©  2008    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.