This, the smallest of all New Zealand birds, belongs to the family of New Zealand wrens comprising only four species, one of which, the Stephens Island wren, is extinct. The family is a very ancient one as far as this country is concerned and its relationships are uncertain.
Riflemen are about three inches long, with short wings and an extremely short tail. Males have a green back, yellowish rump, black tail, a yellow bar on the wings, and are pale buff below with yellow flanks. Females are duller, with a brownish striped back. Legs and toes in both sexes are long and slender, and the bill is straight, fine, and pointed. The common call is a staccato high-pitched tzip. Wings are now and then characteristically flicked. Their habitat is the forest, and numbers are usually highest in beech forest where, apparently, the insects and spiders taken as food are most abundant. Riflemen are usually seen running erratically up tree boles as they seek and eat their prey. Flight is weak and only short distances are covered. Nests are commonly made in holes in trees or logs, and the structures, built of fine plant materials and lined with feathers, moss, or scales of tree fern, are roughly spherical and have an entrance tunnel at one side. Four to five white eggs are laid and two broods may be raised in a season.
Not seen north of the Waikato, though occurring on Great and Little Barrier Islands, the species may be found in most forested areas of the North, South, and Stewart Islands. It is absent from the Chathams.
The common name stems from a fancied resemblance of the plumage to the uniform of an early colonial regiment. The scientific name is Acanthisitta chloris. There are two subspecies, one occurring in the North Island, the other in the South and Stewart Islands.
by Gordon Roy Williams, B.SC.(HONS.)(SYDNEY), Lecturer in Agricultural Zoology, Lincoln Agricultural College.