Mohoua albicilla

Physical Description

The Pōpokotea, or Whitehead, is a small bird with a compact and robust body. It has a round head, a short beak, and a distinctive white head and throat, contrasting with the dark grey-black colouration of its upper parts. The underparts are white, and it has a black band across its chest. Males and females have similar plumage.

Habitat and Range

Pōpokotea are endemic to New Zealand and can be found in various forested habitats, including native forests, shrublands, and regenerating forests. They are particularly associated with podocarp forests, which forage in the understory and mid-canopy levels. They are found on both the North and South Islands, as well as some offshore islands.

Feeding Habits

Pōpokotea are primarily insectivorous birds, feeding on various insects and other invertebrates. Their diverse diet includes spiders, beetles, caterpillars, moths, and wētā (insects endemic to New Zealand). They are active foragers, moving through vegetation in search of prey and gleaning insects from leaves, bark, and branches.

Breeding and Nesting

Pōpokotea breed during the New Zealand summer, forming monogamous pairs. They build small, cup-shaped nests made of moss, lichens, and other plant materials, often located on tree branches or in tree forks. The female lays a clutch of eggs, and both parents participate in incubation and raising the chicks. Pōpokotea may also exhibit cooperative breeding, with older offspring assisting in raising younger siblings.

Conservation Status

The Pōpokotea is classified as "At Risk–Declining" by the New Zealand Threat Classification System. While they are still relatively widespread, their populations have declined in certain regions due to habitat loss, predation by introduced mammals, and competition with other bird species. Conservation efforts include predator control and habitat restoration.

Trees and Plant Preferences

Pōpokotea are closely associated with native forests, particularly podocarp forests, where they find suitable foraging and nesting opportunities. They are often found in areas with a mix of tree species, including kahikatea, mataī, rimu, miro, and tōtara. These trees provide a diverse range of insects as food sources and suitable nesting sites.

Interesting Facts

  • Pōpokotea is known for its melodious and varied song, which consists of trills, whistles, and musical notes.
  • They are highly active and agile birds, often seen hopping and fluttering through the foliage for insects.
  • Pōpokotea has a unique social structure, with extended family groups often joining together to form foraging flocks.
  • They play a crucial ecological role by helping control insect populations and aiding seed dispersal.
  • The Pōpokotea is considered a taonga (treasure) in Māori culture, symbolising the presence of ancestors and the health of the forest.