Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The stitchbird mostly forms socially monogamous breeding pairs, but occasionally forms larger breeding groups, where up to two males and two females may breed in the same nest or territory. These breeding bonds are only social as there is frequent promiscuous behaviour and high levels of extra-pair parentage (9). The nest, situated within the tree hole, is a platform of sticks, with a cup constructed from tree-fern rhizomes placed on top and lined with tree-fern scales and feathers (3). The stitchbird has the unusual distinction of being the only bird known to occasionally mate face to face (7). A clutch of three to five eggs are laid between September and March, which the female then incubates for around 15 days. Both parents feed the chicks, which fledge after about 30 days (3). Nectar is one of the major food types utilised by the stitchbird, and they have a long tongue, divided at the tip and frayed at the edges like a brush that allows them to reach deep into flowers (7). They also eat a wide variety of fruit and pick invertebrates from tree leaves and bark (3). Stitchbirds face strong competition for this food from other species, (the tui and the bellbird), which may prevent the stitchbird from feeding on many kinds of nectar and fruit. When these birds are present the stitchbirds tend to feed on less desirable nectar lower down in the canopy (5). Stitchbirds are strong fliers, known to travel extensively for food, and may travel up to several kilometres in a day between good feeding sites, without leaving the cover of the forest (3) (5).
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Description

The stitchbird, or hihi, is one of New Zealand's rarest birds. It was traditionally thought to be a member of the honeyeater family, a group of birds that possess a characteristic brush tongue adapted to feed on nectar. However, recent studies suggest that it may actually be the sole representative of another bird family found only in New Zealand (4). It is a sexually dimorphic bird, with the male the larger and more colourful sex. It has a velvety-black back, upper breast and head, with white erectile tufts behind the eyes. This black 'hood' is separated from the rest of its body by a vivid yellow band, and the rest of the underparts are pale brown. The blackish wings have golden-yellow shoulder patches and a white wing bar. Females are greyish brown, lack the yellow parts of the male and have much reduced erectile ear tufts, but still retain the distinctive white patch on the wings. Juveniles appear very similar to the female. Both sexes have a short, slightly curved beak, with whisker-like bristles at the corners, and relatively large eyes (5) (6) (7). Another distinctive feature is the way they hold their tail tilted upwards. The name of this bird comes from its 'tzit' or 'stitch' call, which has also been likened to the shortened sound of a cicada, or the sound of two stones being struck together (4) (7). They also have a penetrating yeng-yeng-yeng alarm call (3).
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Distribution

Range Description

Notiomystis cincta was once widespread over the North Island and adjacent offshore islands of New Zealand . Little Barrier Island (31 km2) is now the last natural population, with a minimum estimate of 3,000 birds. Translocated populations exist, with 150 adults on Kapiti (20 km2), 150 birds on Tiritiri Matangi (2 km2) Island, 65 birds at Karori Wildlife Sanctuary (2.25 km2) on the main North Island and about 71 birds at Maungatautari (34 km2), also on the main North Island (J. Ewen, K. Richardson and P. Brekke in litt. 2012). Population estimates are of adult birds at the start of the 2011/2012 Southern Hemisphere breeding season. None of the translocated populations are self-sustaining and most are only increasing as a result of intensive and on-going management including supplementary feeding and predator control at all sites, and the provision of nesting boxes and parasite control at most sites (Armstrong & Ewen 2001, Armstrong et al. 2002, Chauvenet et al. 2012).

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Range

Found only in New Zealand, the stitchbird used to be found across the North Island and its offshore islands, but now the last natural population is found only on Little Barrier Island. Stitchbirds have been translocated to the islands of Kapiti and Tiritiri Matangi, along with two mainland sites, Karori Wildlife Sanctuary and Ark in the Park, but these populations are not yet self-sustaining (6) (7) (8).
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It is found in most forest types, but requires mature forest for breeding as it nests in tree-cavities. It feeds on nectar, fruit and arthropods, depending on availability and requirements (Angehr 1984, Castro et al. 1994b). It has a highly variable breeding system, and is the only bird species known to mate facing each other (Castro et al. 1996). Forced copulation by males occurs during the breeding season (Low 2005). Rates of extra-pair paternity are very high (about 60% of offspring; Brekke et al. 2012). It lays between three and five eggs and can lay up to three clutches per breeding season, but can only rear a maximum of two.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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The stitchbird can inhabit most types of forest with a variety of fruit and nectar sources, providing it is mature forest, as it requires tree holes for nesting (6).
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Notiomystis cincta

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 7
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
D2

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Armstrong, D., Boyd, S., Brekke, P., Castro, I., Ewen, J. & Richardson, K.

Justification

This species is classified as Vulnerable because it has a very small range and population and is therefore susceptible to stochastic events and the impacts of human activities, such as the introduction of non-native predators. Intensive conservation efforts aim to improve its status, but these have resulted in only partial success with at least three of the four remaining translocated populations requiring intensive and on-going management and the fourth currently at an early stage of establishment with uncertainty about its long-term survival.


History
  • 2012
    Vulnerable
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Status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (2).
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Population

Population

The population is estimated to number a minimum of 3,000 mature individuals, assumed to equate to a total population of over 4,500 individuals, based on an estimated minimum of 3,000 mature individuals from distance sampling on Little Barrier (Department of Conservation unpublished report 2012, per J. Ewen, K. Richardson and P. Brekke in litt. 2012). Population estimates from each translocated population in 2011/2012 sum to c.430 adults (Department of Conservation unpublished reports 2012), but these are not counted in the total since it is uncertain how many translocated birds have bred successfully in the wild and can therefore be counted as mature individuals sensu IUCN.


Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
Its extinction on the mainland may have been due to the introduction of black rats Rattus rattus or avian disease (Angehr 1984), although it probably also declined owing to forest loss in parts of its range (Department of Conservation 2005). Factors limiting the translocated populations have not yet been confirmed (D. P. Armstrong in litt. 1999), but declines in the translocated population on the island of Mokoia were attributed to aspergillosis and the discontinuation of supplementary feeding (Castro et al. 2003), and recent declines on Tiritiri Matangi have been attributed to an outbreak of salmonella (Ewen et al. 2007). Furthermore, the provision of supplementary food has promoted population growth on Kapiti (Chauvenet et al. 2012). The recovery of translocated small island populations may be hindered by inbreeding depression (Brekke et al. 2010). It appears to require large expanses of mature forest to survive which represents a major hurdle to conservation efforts (I. Castro in litt. 1999).

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The stichbird's extinction on the mainland and adjacent islands in the past is thought to be due to disease brought into the country by introduced birds, predation by introduced mammals, primarily the black rat Rattus rattus, and habitat loss (5) (6). Today, the only self-sustaining natural population exists on Little Barrier Island, which puts the fate of the stitchbird in a very precarious position. Feral cats posed a threat to stitchbirds on Little Barrier Island until they were eradicated in 1980, and although numbers of stitchbirds on Little Barrier Island appear good today, studies have shown large fluctuations in past population size (5).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
Translocations were initiated in 1980 and have had mixed success with only four of eight sites establishing a population. Translocated birds are given supplementary food, and nest boxes are usually provided. Research to identify factors limiting the new populations indicates that translocation methods and availability of food were not key issues on Mokoia yet the population had poor viability and the last remaining birds were removed in 2002 (Armstrong et al. 1999, Armstrong and Perrott 2000), but food shortages and competition for food with endemic honeyeaters may be a problem on Kapiti (Castro et al. 1994a; Chauvenet et al. 2012) and Tiritiri Matangi (Armstrong and Ewen 2001). Initial signs of population establishment are promising for Karori (with on-going management) and Maungatautari (Ewen et al. 2011). Further sites are being assessed as potential locations for translocation. A small captive population is held, but numbers have gradually declined (Rasch et al. 1996) and the project will be discontinued as it is not cost efficient compared to sourcing wild bred birds for translocation. The population on Little Barrier Island is monitored and efforts are on-going to generate an accurate population assessment
Conservation Actions Proposed
Protect, monitor and, where necessary, enhance populations on existing transfer sites. Research the species's requirements to aid establishment of additional populations. Establish at least one more self-sustaining population. Survey the population on Little Barrier and establish viability and trends. Raise public awareness (Armstrong 1996).
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Conservation

Little Barrier Island was declared a bird sanctuary in 1894 and later a Nature Reserve, meaning that human impacts are kept to a minimum, and tremendous care is taken to keep the island free of introduced animals and plants (10). However, despite this protection, large population fluctuations on Little Barrier Island suggest that chance events could devastate this population, and therefore further self-sustaining populations need to be established to ensure the species' survival (5). The New Zealand Department of Conservation has drawn up and implemented a Stitchbird Recovery Plan, with a long term goal of increasing the number of self-sustaining stitchbird populations to five (4). Early attempts to establish birds on Hen, Cuvier and Mokoia Islands were sadly not successful. Transfers to Ark in the Park, Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, Tiritiri Matangi and Kapiti Islands were more recently attempted using new management techniques, and populations now persist at these sites with the provision of supplementary food and nest boxes. A small number are also held in captivity at Mount Bruce wildlife Centre near Wellington, which enables important research to be undertaken on these rare birds (4).
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Wikipedia

Stitchbird

The stitchbird or hihi (Notiomystis cincta) is a rare honeyeater-like bird endemic to the North Island and adjacent offshore islands of New Zealand. It became extirpated everywhere except Little Barrier Island but has been reintroduced to three other island sanctuaries and two locations on the North Island mainland. Its evolutionary relationships have long puzzled ornithologists, but it is now classed as the only member of its own family, the Notiomystidae.

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]

The stitchbird was originally described as a member of the primarily Australian and New Guinean honeyeater family Meliphagidae. It has remained classified as such until recently. Genetic analysis shows that it is not closely related to the honeyeaters and their allies and that its closest living relatives are within the endemic New Zealand Callaeidae.[2][3][4] In 2007 a new passerine family was erected to contain the stitchbird, the Notiomystidae.[3][5]

Description[edit]

The stitchbird is a small honeyeater-like bird. Males have a dark velvety cap and short white ear-tufts, which can be raised somewhat away from the head. A yellow band across the chest separates the black head from the rest of the body, which is grey. Females and juveniles are duller than males, lacking the black head and yellow chest band. The bill is rather thin and somewhat curved, and the tongue is long with a brush at the end for collecting nectar. Thin whiskers project out and slightly forward from the base of the bill.

Stitchbirds are very active and call frequently. Their most common call, a tzit tzit sound, is believed to be the source of their common name, as Buller noted that it "has a fanciful resemblance to the word stitch".[6] They also have a high-pitched whistle and an alarm call which is a nasal pek like a bellbird. Males give a piercing three-note whistle (often heard in spring) and a variety of other calls not given by the female.

Behavior and ecology[edit]

Research has suggested that they face interspecific competition from the tui and New Zealand bellbird, and will feed from lower-quality food sources when these species are present. The stitchbird rarely lands on the ground and seldom visits flowers on the large canopy trees favoured by the tui and bellbird (this may simply be because of the competition from the more aggressive, larger birds).

Their main food is nectar, but the stitchbird's diet covers over twenty species of native flowers and thirty species of fruit and many species of introduced plants. Important natural nectar sources are haekaro, matata, puriri, rata and toropapa. Preferred fruits include Coprosma species, five finger, pate, tree fuchsia, and raukawa.

The stitchbird also supplements its diet with small insects.

Breeding[edit]

The stitchbird nests in holes high up in old trees.[7] They are the only bird species that mates face to face,[8] in comparison to the more conventional copulation style for birds where the male mounts the female's back.[9]

Status and conservation[edit]

The extinct North Island subspecies

The stitchbird was relatively common early in the European colonisation of New Zealand, and began to decline relatively quickly afterwards, being extinct on the mainland and many offshore islands by 1885. The last sighting on the mainland was in the Tararua Range in the 1880s.[10] The exact cause of the decline is unknown, but is thought to be pressure from introduced species, especially black rats, and introduced avian diseases. Only a small population on Little Barrier Island survived. Starting in the 1980s the New Zealand Wildlife Service (now Department of Conservation) translocated numbers of individuals from Hauturu to other island sanctuaries to create separate populations. These islands were part of New Zealand's network of offshore reserves which have been cleared of introduced species and which protect other rare species including the Kakapo and Takahe.

Currently the world population is estimated to be between 500 and 1000 adult birds, surviving on Hauturu (Little Barrier Island), Kapiti Island, Tiritiri Matangi Island, Mokoia Island in Lake Rotorua, the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary and the Waitakere Ranges. The Tiritiri Matangi population is growing slowly but more than half the chicks that hatch there die of starvation due to the lack of mature forest,[11] most of the island having been revegetated only since 1984–1994. Only the Little Barrier Island population is thought to be stable as of 2007.[12] This species is classified as Vulnerable (D1+D2) by the IUCN.[12] This classification means that there are less than 1000 mature birds, and that the species was found in five locations only. Should the number of self-supporting populations increase and the species flourish, it would likely be downgraded to Conservation Dependent.

Reintroduction to mainland[edit]

In 2005, 60 stitchbirds were released in the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary near Wellington and in October that year, three stitchbird chicks hatched there, the first time for more than 120 years that a stitchbird chick had been born on mainland New Zealand. The hatchings were described as a significant conservation milestone by sanctuary staff who were hoping further chicks would be born there .[10]

In (local) autumn 2007, 59 adult birds from the Tiritiri Matangi population were released in Cascade Kauri Park, in the Waitakere Ranges near Auckland [11][13] and by the end of the year the first chicks had fledged there.[11]

References[edit]

  • Angehr, George R. (1985): Stitchbird, NZ Wildlife Service
  • Anderson, Sue (1993): Stitchbirds copulate front to front. Notornis 40(1): 14. PDF fulltext
  • Barker, F.K., Cibois, A., Shikler, P., Feinstein, J., and Cracraft, J. (2004) Phylogeny and diversification of the largest avian radiation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 101 (30):11040-11045

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2013). "Notiomystis cincta". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Barker et al. 2004
  3. ^ a b Driskell et al. 2007
  4. ^ Ewen et al., 2006
  5. ^ Gregory, A. 2008
  6. ^ Buller 1888, p. 102
  7. ^ Rasch, 1985
  8. ^ Anderson, 1993
  9. ^ Ewen & Armstrong 2002
  10. ^ a b KWS 2005
  11. ^ a b c Gregory, 2007
  12. ^ a b BirdLife International 2007b
  13. ^ BLI, 2007a
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