Kōrero: Small forest birds

Whārangi 7. Whiteheads, yellowheads and brown creepers

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

These three small insect-eaters belong to a family that is only found in New Zealand, Mohouidae. They tend to flock when feeding, usually high in the forest canopy, and have tuneful songs. All are at risk of having long-tailed cuckoo eggs laid in their nests.


The whitehead or pōpokotea (Mohoua albicilla) is a North Island bird with an off-white head, pale body, and brown wings and tail. On average they are 15 centimetres long; males weigh 18.5 grams and females 14.5 grams. Found in native and exotic forests, whiteheads have gone from some areas but are still widespread. They are abundant on predator-free islands, including Kāpiti and Little Barrier, and have been moved to Motuora, Mana, Moturoa, Motuihe, Motutapu and Rangitoto islands.

Whiteheads build a nest in the forest canopy or lower shrubs. Young birds from earlier clutches often help raise chicks.


The yellowhead, bush canary or mōhua (Mohoua ochrocephala) lives in the South Island. Yellowheads are 15 centimetres long; males weigh 30 grams, females 25 grams. They are bright yellow with a brown back, wings and tail.

Yellowheads nest in tree holes, usually in beech trees. These are easier for predators to reach than whitehead nests, and the narrow entrance makes it difficult for the birds to escape. So yellowheads have disappeared from 85% of their range, including Stewart Island. There are remnant populations in Fiordland and other small pockets of the Southern Alps and Catlins. Many have been moved to sanctuaries around the South Island – to Ulva, Codfish, Breaksea, Chalky, Anchor, Pigeon, Secretary, Pomona, Resolution and Nukuwaiata islands, and islands in southern lakes.

Brown creeper

The brown creeper or pīpipi (Mohoua novaeseelandiae) of the South Island and Stewart Island is the smallest of the three Mohoua species – 13 centimetres long. Males weigh 13.5 grams, females 11 grams. The head and back are brown, with a grey face and neck. Brown creeper numbers have fallen, but they remain in many areas of the Southern Alps, Nelson, Marlborough, Kaikōura, Banks Peninsula and the Catlins, and on Stewart Island and islands off its north-east coast, living in exotic pine forest and scrub as well as mature native forest. Young birds move from tree to tree in flocks of up to 50, chorusing their sweet ‘peee–pee–pee’ call.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Christina Troup, 'Small forest birds - Whiteheads, yellowheads and brown creepers', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/small-forest-birds/page-7 (accessed 21 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Christina Troup, i tāngia i te 24 Sep 2007, reviewed & revised 17 Feb 2015, updated 1 Aug 2023