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The South Island saddleback, also known as the Tieke, is a bird species endemic to New Zealand.

The vulnerable rescued

They are extremely vulnerable to introduced mammalian predators such as ship rats and stoats due to their tendency to nest, forage and roost on or low to the ground.

In the 1960s the NZ wildlife service rescued the species from its final refuge on the Islands around big south cape off Stewart Island following an invasion of ship rats. These Saddleback were put on smaller predator free islands around Stewart Island, saving the birds from extinction.

Still today, Tieke are confined to sites where introduced predators are absent, primarily on offshore islands around Stewart Island, Fiordland and the Marlborough Sounds.

The distinctive feature

The Saddleback gets its name from the distinctive chestnut saddle-shaped patch of feathers on its back. The South Island Saddleback though does not acquire this saddle until over a year of age. Up until then, in its Jackbird phase, it is a chocolate brown colour and was previously thought of as a different species of bird.

Family life

Saddlebacks are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds. They build nests a couple of meters off the ground in tree holes, cracks in rocks, pungas and epiphytes. The chicks will stay with the parents for a whole year, foraging as the family group until the next breeding season comes along and they get unceremoniously kicked out of their territory.

Feeding the masses

South Island Saddleback’s diet is mostly made up of tasty invertebrates found in the forest, but they also eat fruits and nectar. It rummages around in leaf litter or uses its pointy beak to chisel into bark which it levers off by opening its beak. While its doing this, debris is raining down and you often see Yellow Head (Mohua) and Fantails (Piwakawaka) making the most in the disturbed insects.

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