Wildlife - Tīeke / South Island saddleback

Tīeke / saddleback


With its bold brown saddle and distinctive orange-red wattle the saddleback or tīeke is one of New Zealand’s most recognisable birds but also one of the rarest.

In the Abel Tasman it is found on predator free Motuareronui Adele Island after the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust transferred 41 birds from the Marlborough Sounds in 2014.

South Island saddleback belong to an ancient group of wattlebirds or Callaeidae which include the endangered kōkako and extinct huia. Their habit of roosting and nesting close to the ground meant they were one of the first species to disappear from mainland New Zealand following the arrival of rats.

Māori legend has it that the tīeke got its name after Māori demi-god Maui got angry when the saddleback wouldn’t bring him water while he was lassoing the sun to slow it down. Maui grabbed the tīeke with his fiery hand and burnt its feathers. From that day the saddleback wore a brown ‘saddle’.

Bird calls courtesy of NZ birds online