“Our most perfect winter and early spring weather comes when the wind blows directly off the snow-clad Ruahine Range, the nights are frosty, the days are still, the lake a sheet of glass, the blue sky cloudless. During weather such as this in early August, everywhere on the run may be heard the long, tremulous trill of the Warbler, rather like a cricket’s cry than a bird’s,” writes Guthrie–Smith.

“Presently, from some manuka thicket, a sombre plumaged little bird will emerge, light on some topmost twig, and pour forth to three–quarters of the globe — for in his ecstasy he nearly sings a circle — this faint sweet trill that heralds fuller spring.

“Although a plentiful species on the run, even in winter the warbler’s presence about the homestead is infrequent. During spring he is even more rarely seen; he has then, like all the native species, retired to breed in deeper solitude than a New Zealand homestead can afford, but though gone, he has not gone far away, and his faint song is still distinctly audible from the house.

“In some dark manuka thicket his pear–shaped nest is built, or deeply set in some dense branched bush. The nest itself is not unlike that of the British long–tailed tit, similar in the neat finish and feather lining, but our New Zealander has often a tiny portico above, or little ledge beneath, his entrance hole. The five or six eggs are sometimes almost quite white, sometimes they are freckled like a wren’s, with tiny spots at the thicker end. The warbler sits close, and often when feeling for eggs or young I have touched the old bird in her nest. The youngsters grow with great rapidity, and for some time after quitting the nest they may be seen all together, haunting the vicinity of their old home. Watching the parents and brood together thus in a family party, the young able to feed themselves, though still accepting food and all very merry and lively and busy, gives the impression that this last week of companionship must be one of the happiest episodes in the lives of parent birds. The cares and dangers of incubation are past, the labours of feeding and rearing over, whilst there still remains just sufficient responsibility to excite the parental instincts. The young, like children to whom each hour provides new matter of wonder and interest, are content in the exercise of their new developed functions, their facile captures and brief flights.

“Then comes a day at last when the warblers begin to think of their second nest, and again in early summer, as in early spring, couples may be seen playing and fluttering in the glades, poised in the warm air, and again may be heard poured forth at every stage of their courting tour that faint, sweet, tremulous trill, so unlike the note of any other native bird. It is this second nest that is often patronised by the shining cuckoo, for the warbler, though so small a bird — only four inches long — is that barred migrant’s favourite host.

“It is the warmth, perhaps, of the domed nest that tempts these tropical sybarites, or may be their knowledge of the unwearied industry of the little warblers.

“The earliest nest I got this year was party constructed on August 19th, and was but a few days in advance of many others. No doubt, therefore, second nests would be in process of construction, or even finished, by the date of arrival of the shining cuckoo.

“This cuckoo arrives at Tutira during the first week of October. This year he was first noticed only on the 8th, and heard at intervals up till the 27th January.”

greywarbler photo grey warbler
Sub Species:

Song of the :  —  Riroriro, the grey warbler

 Viking Sevenseas

Other common names:  — 

Grey Gerygone, New Zealand Gerygone, New Zealand Grey Gerygone, New Zealand Grey Flyeater.

Description:  — 

Endemic bird

10 cm., 6.5 g., grey bird with conspicuous white tipped tail.

Where to find:  — 

Common and widespread.

Poetry:  — 

Tangi e te riroriro
Te tohu o te raumati
Tua rua tonu mai;
Tikina mai tirohia,
Tenei ano ahau
Te au reti mai nei,
O te kawe mai
A puna-roimata,
Te aroha whitiora,
Kia ora te kaupapa i au.

Sweetly sings the riroriro,
Chant of summer days;
Sing it over again to me;
Come forth that I may see thee.
My ears ensnare thy melody
The chant that brings the gushing tears
Of joy and love,
The song that cheers
The very heart of me.

 — Legends of the Maori, Sir Maui Pomare

I hea koe i te tangihanga o te riroriro?
ka tanu ai i tetahi kawai huie mau?

Where were you at the singing of the grey warbler?

 — Maori proverb

Credit for the photograph: — 


Left photograph — 
Jan Hartog

Right photograph — 
© Brian Massa Photography

Illustration description: — 


Gerygone igata (Grey Warbler)
Artist: Charles Joseph Hullmandel (1789-1850).

From: "The zoology of the voyage of the H.M.S. Erebus & Terror", under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross, during the years 1839 to 1843.

Reference(s): — 


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

Guthrie Smith, H., Birds of Water, Wood and Waste, 1927.

Page date & version: — 


Friday, 24 August 2019; ver2009v1


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