Grey warbler
Image: Michael Hamilton © 

Introduction

The grey warbler is a relatively inconspicuous grey bird that flits about the canopy of the forest but its call permeates the forest and takes the edge off a hard uphill slog for any attentive tramper.

These diminutive insectivorous birds busy themselves along branches seeking out small invertebrates.

Grey warbler (Gerygone igata) was the surprise recipient of the title of New Zealand's best-loved bird in 2007.

Facts

Drawing of grey warbler perched on a branch. From Buller, Walter Lawry. A History of the Birds of New Zealand. Out of copyright.
Grey warbler perched on a branch

Grey warbler. Image: M.F. Soper.
Grey warbler

The grey warbler/riroriro are found throughout New Zealand.

They are a small grey-brown bird with pale grey on the face throat and breast and an off white belly and under tail. 

Weighing about 6.5g, which is around one-third the weight of a mouse, makes them one of New Zealand's lightest birds.

They are insectivores with a habit of hovering to pick insects and spiders from plants.

Grey warblers are clever nest builders. They have distinctive domed hanging nests with a small side entrance hole.

They are one of few native passerines to have benefitted from human modification of the landscape.

Sound recording

Grey warbler song (MP3, 527K)
1 minute 26 second recording of a grey warbler's territorial call. The bird is flying between perches, answering a tape recorder.

Note: Right-click the song link for options to save. Bird songs may be reused according to our copyright terms. More help on files.

"People call grey warblers dull, but they're the subconscious sound of New Zealand."
– Graeme Hill, Campaign Manager for the grey warbler in Forest & Bird's 2007 New Zealand's bird of the year competition 
"In the warm sunlight of advancing summer, when the manuka-scrub is covered with its snow-white bloom and the air is laden with the fragrance of forest flowers, amidst the hum of happy insect-life, a soft trill of peculiar sweetness—like the chirping of a merry cricket—falls upon the ear, and presently a tiny bird appears for an instant on the topmost twigs of some low bush, hovers for a few moments, like a moth before a flower, or turns a somersault in the air, and then drops out of sight again. This is the Grey Warbler, the well-known Riroriro of Maori history and song."
– Sir Walter Lawry Buller, A History of the Birds of New Zealand, 1888, London

Threats

Grey warblers are abundant and widespread and no threat to their long term existence is apparent.

Our work

Grey warbler in a tree fern. Photo copyright Rob Scotcher. DOC use only.
Grey warbler in a tree fern

Grey warbler at nest. Image: J.L. Kendrick.
Grey warbler at nest

Grey warbler/riroriro are not threatened, so DOC doesn't actively work with them.

Of course, the work that DOC does in plant and animal pest control increases the quality of whole ecosystems, and therefore contributes to the ongoing success of many common birds like the grey warbler, as well as ensuring the ongoing survival of our rarer more susceptible species.

DOC priorotises its work to protect the rarer species, in the context of their overall environment. This is encapsulated in the whakatauki (Maori Proverb):

"Tiakina nga manu, ka ora te ngahere Ka ora te ngahere, ka ora nga manu"

"Look after the birds and the forest flourishes. If the forest flourishes, the birds flourish."

You can help

Grey warblers are quite common, although they are relatively shy and are heard more than seen. They will quite likely visit your garden if you plant native shrubs for them to safely build their nests in.

Help protect New Zealand's native birds

  • Volunteer with DOC or other groups to control predators and restore bird habitats.
  • Don’t throw rubbish into water ways or storm drains.
  • Set traps for stoats or rats on your property. Get more information from your local DOC office.
  • Put a bell on your cat's collar, feed it well, and keep it indoors at night.
  • Plant a range of native plants that provide food year-round to encourage birds into your garden.
When visiting parks and beaches
  • Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep your dog under control.
  • Prevent the spread of pests. Check your gear for mice and rats when visiting pest-free islands.
  • Use available access ways to get to the beach. Stay out of fenced-off areas. Leave nesting shore birds alone.
  • Get your dog trained in avian awareness, and help save forest birds like kiwi and weka.
  • Follow the water care code. Keep water craft speed to 5 knots within 200 metres of the shore.
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