Bellbird

A honeyeater with a beautiful song.

English name: Bellbird

Māori name: Korimako

Scientific name: Anthornis melanura melanura (three sub-species recognised in New Zealand)

NZ Status: Endemic (found only in NZ)

Conservation Status (NZTCS): Not Threatened

Found: In native and exotic forest throughout the North, South, Stewart and Auckland Islands; also found on many smaller offshore islands

Threats: Predation from cats, rats, stoats

Did you know? Bellbirds have a special toothbrush-like tongue that allows them to collect nectar from flowers.

Bellbird
Photo Credit: Janice McKenna

The bellbird (korimako) belongs to the honeyeater family (Meliphagidae) found in Australasia and the Pacific islands. Honeyeaters have a slightly downward curved bill and a long brush-tipped tongue, which makes it an excellent tool for lapping up nectar from flowers. They tend to follow the seasonal flowering of preferred plants and play an important role as pollinators. In addition to eating nectar, these birds also eat insects and fruits and are important dispersers of the seeds.

The male is olive-green with a dark purple tinted head and blackish wings and tail. The female is olive-brown with a pale yellow stripe from the base of the bill to below the eye. Both adults have a notably red eye and their flight is noisy and whirring due to a notch in one of the primary wing feathers. Juveniles have brown eyes and a light yellow cheek stripe. Juvenile males have dull brown-black outer wing and tail feathers.

The korimako has a varied and melodious song, described by Captain Cook as sounding like 'small bells exquisitely tuned’. The call is similar to the tūī but more pure in tone. Both sexes sing long, loud songs, often in duet or with other bellbirds in chorus. Bellbirds even have regional dialects (or accents) so that, while the pure bell notes are always present, the combination and variety of the call differs from place to place. Males, especially, may intersperse their calls with harsh croaks. The alarm call is a loud and scolding ‘yeng yeng yeng’. For Māori, too, the korimako’s most notable quality is its song. Great singers and orators are praised by being compared to the korimako, saying 'He rite ki te kōpara e kō nei i te ata' (just like a korimako singing at dawn).

Korimako were rarely seen and regarded as functionally extinct in the Wellington area until they were first released at ZEALANDIA in 2001. They have been recorded breeding since 2002, the first time a transfer of bellbirds anywhere had resulted in successful breeding. Korimako have been highly productive since then, but poor recruitment of females has led to an increasingly male biased population. Despite the transfer of additional females from Kapiti Island between 2007 - 2011 and providing supplementary food, recruitment and survival of females remains poor. Low survival is likely due to naïve foraging outside of the safety of ZEALANDIA’s predator-proof fence, where females feed close to the ground and are caught and killed by cats. Until cat numbers can be reduced, long-term persistence of the bellbird population is unlikely in Wellington.

Look for them: Look for the korimako at our nectar feeders, at the bottom of the Beech Track, or up in the Discovery Area.