A milestone in re-establishing the whitehead (pōpokotea) in the Auckland region has been achieved with the release of the protected native bird on two pest-free islands in the heart of Auckland.

Date:  19 June 2012


A milestone in re-establishing the whitehead (pōpokotea) in the Auckland region has been achieved with the release of the protected native bird on two pest-free islands in the heart of Auckland.

Whiteheads disappeared from the Auckland mainland in the 1880s, driven out by rats, stoats and the loss of native forest.

They are being restored to the region and the release of 50 whiteheads on pest-free Motutapu and Motuihe islands on Sunday 17 June means these birds are now just 30 minutes by ferry from downtown Auckland.  

The whiteheads released were captured on pest-free Little Barrier Island (Hauturu) and held in temporary aviaries. They were placed in transport boxes and flown today to Motuihe and Motutapu islands by helicopter.  

Whitehead/pōpokotea released on Motutapu Island.
Whitehead/pōpokotea released on Motutapu Island

Thirty were released on Motutapu and twenty on Motuihe. The transfer was carried out by the Department of Conservation (DOC) in partnership with the Motuihe Trust and the Motutapu Restoration Trust, and in consultation with local iwi.

The 20 whiteheads released on Motuihe were released into native forest planted by volunteers organised by the Motuihe Trust.

Motuihe Trust chairperson John Laurence is thrilled to have whiteheads on Motuihe. “They’re a welcome addition to the tuatara, little spotted kiwi, kakariki and other native wildlife we’ve released onto the island since it was made pest-free in 2005.”

Thirty whiteheads were released into native forest planted on Motutapu by Motutapu Restoration Trust volunteers.

Motutapu Restoration Trust chair Chris Fletcher says there’s plenty of room on Motutapu and Rangitoto for a large whitehead population. “We’ve been adding to the wildlife on these islands since they were declared pest-free last year and are looking forward to having flocks of lively whitehead for the public to enjoy.”

Rangitoto and Motutapu were declared pest-free in August last year. Since then three threatened birds – takahē, tīeke (saddleback) and shore plover – and two freshwater native species with declining populations – koura (freshwater crayfish) and red fin bullies – have been released on Motutapu. Tīeke were also released on Rangitoto.    


Tīeke (saddleback) from Little Barrier Island were also released on Rangitoto and Motutapu today. Ten were released on Rangitoto and ten on Motutapu joining tīeke from pest-free Tiritiri Matangi released on the islands last year. The new arrivals from Little Barrier will increase the genetic diversity of the tīeke population on Rangitoto and Motutapu.      

Tīeke were almost wiped out by ship rats, stoats and feral cats. By 1964 the population of North Island tīeke had been reduced to 500 living on Hen Island in Northland.

They were saved from extinction by being moved onto pest-free islands. Today North Island tīeke live on 15 islands. The tīeke released onto Rangitoto and Motutapu last year began producing chicks just 10 weeks after their release.

DOC Auckland Area manager Jonathan Miles says creating a genetically robust, self-sustaining tīeke population on Rangitoto and Motutapu is another step in securing the future of these noted songbirds. “Having removed the animal pests we’re now able to use these islands to bring our unique wildlife to the heart of our largest city.”   

Further information on Rangitoto and Motutapu islands

  • Rangitoto is the largest and youngest of the volcanic cones and craters in Auckland. It erupted from the sea in a series of dramatic explosions around 600 years ago.
  • Rangitoto has no soil but out of its black volcanic rock grows the world’s largest pohutukawa forest and more than 250 other native trees and plants.
  • A short bridge joins Rangitoto to neighbouring Motutapu.
  • Motutapu was one of the first places settled by Maori when they arrived in Aotearoa about 800 years ago. Maori were living on the island when Rangitoto erupted.
  • European settlers began farming Motutapu in the 1840s, clearing the native forest.
  • The Motutapu Restoration Trust began restoring the native forest on Motutapu in 1994. They have established a nursery and have planted more than 400,000 native trees creating a home for the wildlife released since Motutapu and Rangitoto were declared free of animal pests on 27 August 2011.
  • A number of native birds have returned to Rangitoto and Motutapu on their own since the pests were removed. Bellbirds (korimako) and kakariki have flown from pest-free Motuihe and Rakino islands, and are now breeding on Motutapu and Rangitoto. Pateke and spotless crakes have also been seen on the islands.

Further information on Motuihe Island

  • Motuihe has a long history of settlement by Maori dating back to the early 1300s.
  • European settlers began farming the island in the 1840s, clearing the native forest.
  • A quarantine station was built in 1873 and housed people with infectious diseases for almost 50 years.
  • During the First World War the quarantine station was used as an internment camp for German and Austrian nationals.
  • When the Second World War began the buildings became a training base for the Navy. More than 6000 recruits passed through camp before it was closed in 1963.
  • The Motuihe Trust began restoring Motuihe’s native forest in 1994.
  • The Trust has built a nursery and its volunteers have planted 350,000 native trees. This forest provides a home for the whiteheads (pōpokotea), little spotted kiwi, tuatara, tīeke, kakariki, bellbirds (korimako) and shore skinks released on Motuihe since it was made pest-free in 2005.
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