saddleback nest

Pairs hold their territory all year round and defend it loudly, the main call being loud and strident. It may be heard from some distance, announcing their presence.

Guthrie-Smith, writing in the early part of the twentienth century about his experiences with saddleback on Kotiwhenu or Solomon Island off Stewart Island, had five nests under observation containing either eggs or young. He says that “four were within a few feet of the ground, whilst all were within deep shade. The first discovered, built into the fork of an ironwood and screened with polypod and the shrubby growths of several epiphytes, was a dozen feet above the dark gritty soil. A second nest was found two feet above the peat, placed in the long cavity of a prone tupari. A third nest at an elevation of three feet was built in a similar cavity. In this case the fallen tree was a large ironwood, several of whose rootlets passed athwart the cavity. The trunk was, moreover, densely thatched in matted polypod, whose erect fronds filtered such light as might still penetrate the incubating birds. The orifice of a fourth nest opened into a cranny in a sound green tupari only a few inches above the peat. The entrance to this nest was unusually constricted, and the structure within almost invisible. The fifth nest, also in deep shade, was built into an open flax kit suspended from a nail fastened to an upright board in a Maori hut.

“The outermost materials of the nest consist of rootlets and portions of fronds of aspidium aculeatum, the latter so affected by exposure and age as to be easily tweaked into the desired circular form. On this rough base and outer edging rest quantities of narrow grass-tree leaves; on them are piled, deep amd warm, the shining scales of unrolled tree-fern fronds.

“Without exception there were two eggs or two young birds in each nest - never more and never less. On several occasions the eggs, when not covered by the birds, had a leaf or two over them - these leaves, I think, not fallen by chance into the nest. The pairs of eggs seen by me differed little from one another, less indeed than do the eggs of other species. In size they are rather larger than those of the Tui, blunter, and less elegant. Grey was their ground colour, the shell thickly blotched all over, but chiefly and very clearly marked on the blunt end; there the grey blotchings became a blur, tinted with violet or purple brown.

“Twenty or twenty-one days is the duration of incubation, the birds beginning to sit immediately after the second egg was laid. Thus a nest got with two eggs on the 8th November contained chicks on the 28th. The nest built in a flax kit had a single egg in it on the ninth; on the 10th there were two eggs; on the evening of the 30th the chicks were about to emerge. On that evening the hen was so wrapt in the ecstasy of brooding that she allowed me to lift the kit from its nail and carry her forth still sitting to show my companions. She appeared to be perfectly unconcerned, her plumage fluffed out to the utmost, her side feathers made to cover completely the outer margin of the nest. It was a critical period when greatest warmth was required. The beak of one chick already protruded from the shell; the second egg was chipped. Unalarmed, she was returned to her comfortable quarters within the dry gloom of the hut.”

Diet is mainly insects but in season will also feed on fruit and nectar. On the forest floor they rumage in the litter and dig out rotting logs with the strong bills. Guthrie Smith records that they almost exclusively fed their young on grubs.

saddleback nest
Sub Species:
rufusater, carunculatus.

Other common names:  — 

Jack bird, wattled stare, wattled starling.

Description:  — 

Endemic bird

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.

More Information:  — 

»»»  Tieke gallery page

»»»  Tieke page   (Maori myths section)

Credit for the photograph: — 


H. Guthrie-Smith

Illustration description: — 


Guthrie-Smith, H., Bird Life on Island and Shore, 1925.

Reference(s): — 


Guthrie-Smith, H., Bird Life on Island and Shore, 1925.

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

Page date & version: — 


Thursday, 4 July 2019; ver2009v1


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