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Notiomystis cincta

The stitchbird, or hihi, is a small passerine bird endemic to New Zealand, notable for its honeyeater-like appearance. The male is distinguished by a dark velvety cap and white ear-tufts, which can be raised, a yellow band across the chest, and a predominantly grey body. Females and juveniles are less vivid, lacking the black head and yellow chest band. The species exhibits a thin, slightly curved bill and a long, brush-tipped tongue adapted for nectar feeding, complemented by thin whiskers at the bill's base.

Identification Tips

To identify the stitchbird, look for the male's striking black head and yellow chest band, which contrast with the grey body. The female is more subdued in coloration but shares the species' general shape and bill structure. Both sexes have a characteristic 'tail cocked' stance.


Stitchbirds are arboreal, favoring native forests where they can forage among the foliage. They are rarely seen on the ground and prefer to avoid the large canopy trees favored by more dominant nectar feeders like the tūī and bellbird.


Once widespread, stitchbirds are now confined to the North Island and several offshore islands of New Zealand. They were extirpated from most of their range but have been reintroduced to select island sanctuaries and mainland locations.


Stitchbirds are highly active and vocal, often calling with a distinctive 'tzit tzit' sound, which is thought to have inspired their common name. They also emit high-pitched whistles and alarm calls. Males are known for a piercing three-note whistle, particularly during the spring.

Song & Calls

The stitchbird's calls include the common 'tzit tzit', a high-pitched whistle, and a nasal 'pek' alarm call similar to that of the bellbird. The male's unique three-note whistle is a notable aspect of their vocal repertoire.


Unique among birds, stitchbirds engage in face-to-face copulation. They nest in cavities high in old trees and exhibit one of the highest rates of extra-pair paternity, possibly due to forced copulations.

Similar Species

While the stitchbird's behavior and feeding habits are reminiscent of honeyeaters, it is the sole member of its family, Notiomystidae, and thus has no very close relatives among New Zealand's avifauna.

Diet and Feeding

The stitchbird's diet is primarily nectar-based, but it also includes over twenty species of native flowers, thirty species of fruit, and various introduced plants. They supplement their diet with small insects.

Conservation status

The stitchbird is classified as Vulnerable due to its very small range and limited number of populations. Conservation efforts include translocations to predator-free islands and mainland sanctuaries to establish new populations and mitigate genetic bottlenecks.


Efforts to reintroduce the stitchbird to parts of its former range have seen mixed success, with some populations, such as those on Tiritiri Matangi Island and in Zealandia, showing promising growth. However, challenges such as inbreeding and hatching failures persist.

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