A pair of bellbirds or korimako in a Tamahere garden are raising hopes that the native birds’ numbers are rising in the Waikato after a decades-long absence.
Sanctuary Lane resident Dynes Fulton, the Waikato district deputy mayor, first observed the pair – a male and a female – about a month ago and the once rare sighting has now become a daily occurrence.
Male korimako are more often seen on their own so the presence of the female has raised the exciting prospect that the pair might mate in breeding season later in the year.
The pair are appearing daily at a feeding station in the Fultons’ garden, which borders a large gully system. A few years ago, Fulton was delighted to show the same feeder attracting a gaggle of tui.
Not far away, on the same Mangaone stream gully system, Tamahere resident Alison Ewing has also reported a pair of korimako at her place. It’s not known whether they are the same pair as those visiting the Fulton’s or whether Tamahere is host to at least two pairs.
Ewing told the Hamilton Halo project that the pair had appeared after a single bird had been sighted over the preceding year.
A female bellbird was also spotted in nearby Hillcrest in February to the delight of bird lover and Landcare Research technician Neil Fitzgerald.
It was a significant sighting because bellbirds generally stick close to the site they were bred in, Fitzgerald said, and the males generally move further and faster.
“[Seeing the female in Hillcrest] suggests the numbers are increasing.”
Waikato Regional Council senior biodiversity officer Andrea Julian said Fitzgerald’s sighting, which came at the tail-end of summer, was exciting because it indicated the female could have been nesting in the city.
Bellbirds are shy little beauties and are only found in New Zealand. They’re about 20 centimetres long. Females are dull olive-brown, with a slight blue sheen on the head and a pale yellow cheek stripe. Males are olive green, with a purplish head and black outer wing and tail feathers.
In 2010 a multi-agency programme led by Landcare Research and Waikato University, released bellbirds from Auckland’s Tiritiri Matangi and Tawharanui bird sanctuaries into the Hamilton Gardens, with the aim of re-establishing the birds in the city. But unfortunately none stayed and no bellbirds were seen for several years after their departure.
“However, since then occasional unbanded birds have been seen, about one or two a year, almost certainly as a result of predator control in native forest areas around the region,” said Fitzgerald.
“It appears the sightings in more recent years are part of a natural dispersal of bellbirds back into the city. So we’re very keen for the public to help us track what’s happening with this species in Hamilton.”
To make a report of a native bird sighting go to the Waikato Regional Council’s Hamilton Halo page.
When Europeans arrived in New Zealand, bellbirds were common throughout the North and South Islands. Their numbers declined sharply during the 1860s in the North Island and 1880s in the South Island, about the time that ship rats and stoats arrived.
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