New Zealand fernbird

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New Zealand fernbird
New Zealand Fernbird - Okarito, New Zealand.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Locustellidae
Genus: Poodytes
Species: P. punctatus
Binomial name
Poodytes punctatus
(Quoy & Gaimard, 1830)

Bowdleria punctata
Megalurus punctatus

The New Zealand fernbird or simply fernbird (Poodytes punctatus) is an insectivorous bird endemic to New Zealand. The Māori names are kōtātā or mātātā.

There are five fully protected sub-species of New Zealand fernbird:

  • P. p. punctatus (South Island fernbird)
  • P. p. vealeae (North Island fernbird)
  • P. p. stewartianus (Stewart Island fernbird)
  • P. p. wilsoni (Codfish Island fernbird)
  • P. p. caudatus (Snares fernbird)

Poodytes rufescens (the Chatham fernbird) is believed to have become extinct circa 1900.


The New Zealand fernbird is a rich brown above and white below, with brown spots on both the throat and breast. Early settlers called it the "swamp sparrow" no doubt because of its colouration.[2] The tail feathers are thin, dark brown, and spine-like. The birds reach a length of 18 cm (7 in) – as measured from tip of beak to end of tail. However, almost half of that is tail.[2]


The New Zealand fernbird is a ground-dwelling bird, and is a reluctant flier, travelling mainly on foot or in occasional short flights of less than 15 metres. In the 19th century, Buller described it as "one of our most common"[2] (birds) but it has been adversely affected by the subsequent widespread destruction of its natural wetland habitat following European settlement and is now rare.[2]

The birds nest in sedges or other vegetation close to the ground, making a deep woven cup of dried rushes lined with feathers. Breeding occurs from September to February, producing clutches of 2-3 pinkish-white eggs with brown or purple speckles.

Place in Māori culture[edit]

Māori revered the fernbird as an "oracle" or "wise bird" (Manu tohu).[2] The calls of the bird were interpreted as heralding success or failure in daily activities such as fishing but on a more serious level could also portend prosperity and health or disaster and death.[2]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Bowdleria punctata". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Wetlands of New Zealand; A Bitter-Sweet story", Janet Hunt, Random House, 2007
  • Falla, R.A., Sibson, R.B., and Turbott, E.G. (1970). A Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-212022-4
  • Marshall, J., Kinsky, F.C., and Robinson, C.J.R. (1982). The Fiat Book of Common birds in New Zealand. Wellington: A.H. and A.W. Reed. ISBN 0-589-00759-9