Saddie the Saddleback
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Karori is a house with a special attraction… Diana and Geoff have a regular visitor who taps insistently on their window – a saddleback (tīeke) they’ve named Saddie.
Tīeke are very territorial birds, whose displays include head-bobbing and tail-fanning, and Saddie does both on his perch outside Diana’s window. He has ripped all the fronds off the fern he perches on as if to create a landing strip for his visits. Twice this summer he’s brought a young fledgling with him, and occasionally his mate also makes an appearance. Does he want attention? Is he staking his claim to his territory, or responding to his own reflection in the glass? Diana is mindful that Saddie is a wild bird and so doesn’t feed him, keeping a respectful distance that won’t affect his natural behaviour. There’s no saying for sure what the attraction is for this boisterous bird. Maybe, she jokes, he’s just flirting with her.
Tīeke are wattlebirds, from the same family as the kōkako and huia. They are clumsy flyers and nest close to the ground which makes their eggs and chicks vulnerable to introduced predators such as stoats, rats and cats. Due to predation and habitat loss, during the twentieth century these beautiful birds only survived on offshore island sanctuaries.
In 2002 tīeke were introduced to Zealandia, and they are now well established within the safety of the valley. With so many breeding pairs flourishing inside the fence, these striking, unique birds are now beginning to venture beyond it, in search of new territory and, to the delight of locals like Diana and Geoff, are making themselves right at home.
Photo by Diana Hilgert