Acanthisitta chloris

Physical Description

The Tītipounamu, or Rifleman, is one of the smallest bird species in New Zealand. It measures around 8 centimetres (3 inches) in length and weighs only 6 to 7 grams. It has a compact body with a vibrant green plumage, which helps it blend into the forest environment. The male has a white throat, while the female has a yellow throat. Both sexes have acceptable bills, short wings, and a distinctive upright stance.

Habitat and Range

The Rifleman is endemic to New Zealand and can be found in various forested habitats, including native forests, beech forests, and shrublands. They are distributed across both the North and South Islands, as well as some offshore islands. They prefer dense, mossy environments and are often found in the lower and middle layers of the forest.

Feeding Habits

Rifleman are insectivorous birds that primarily feed on small invertebrates, including spiders, insects, and their larvae. They have a unique foraging behaviour where they climb up tree trunks, branches, and foliage, searching for prey. They use their slender bill to probe crevices and extract insects from bark, moss, and leaf litter. They may also feed on nectar, pollen, and small fruits.

Breeding and Nesting

Riflemen are monogamous birds that form long-term pair bonds. They construct delicate cup-shaped nests of moss, lichen, and plant fibres, often tucked into tree crevices or suspended from branches. The female lays a clutch of 3 to 5 eggs, which both parents incubate for approximately 19 days. Both parents participate in feeding and caring for the chicks until they fledge.

Conservation Status

The Rifleman is not currently considered a threatened species and is classified as "Least Concern" by the IUCN. However, like many native bird species in New Zealand, they may face threats from habitat loss, predation by introduced mammals, and environmental changes. Conservation efforts focus on protecting their forest habitats and controlling invasive predators.

Tree and Plant Preferences

Rifleman primarily inhabit native forests throughout their range, including both mature and regenerating forests. They are particularly associated with mossy environments and dense vegetation. They use trees and shrubs as foraging sites and nesting locations. Some common tree species in their habitat include beech (Nothofagus spp.), rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum), and totara (Podocarpus totara).

Interesting Facts

  • The Rifleman is known for its exceptional agility and climbing abilities, often navigating vertical tree trunks and hanging upside down to search for insects.
  • They have a distinctive high-pitched call, often described as a soft "cheep" or "squeak" sound.
  • Rifleman have a unique characteristic of huddling together in groups for warmth during cold nights, forming communal roosts.
  • They have a high metabolic rate, which allows them to maintain their body temperature in relaxed forest environments.
  • The Rifleman is considered a taonga (treasured) species in Māori culture, representing the connection between people and the natural world.