PHOTO: Shellie Evans ©


The whitehead/pōpokotea has a series of clear tuneful calls that fill the forest with a pleasant cacophony of sound when they appear in flocks high in the canopy of the forest.


Whitehead on Kapiti Island. Photo: J.L. Kendrick.
Whitehead on Kapiti Island

Whitehead/pōpokotea (Mohoua albicilla) are widespread and locally common in North Island beech forests, podocarp forest and old growth exotic plantation forests. However their range has shrunk since European settlement and they have disappeared from places such as Northland.

The birds are around 15cm long and have black beaks and eyes. Males have white heads and underparts, and pale brown upperparts, wings and tail. Females and juveniles are similar, but have brown on their nape and tops of their head.

In summer, chattering flocks of these ‘bush canaries’ can be heard as the juvenile birds do their teenage thing.

Sound recordings

Whitehead/pōpokotea flock (MP3, 707K)
00:44 – Flock feeding in a homestead garden and trees on Little Barrier Island.

Whitehead/pōpokotea territorial call (MP3, 3,549K)
03:46 – Adult male feeding under a canopy of beech trees in Whiteman's Valley, attracted by playback of calls, replying vigorously.

Bird songs may be reused according to our copyright terms.


Male whitehead on tree branch. Photo: J.L. Craig.
Male whitehead on tree branch

Unlike their South Island cousins the yellowhead or mōhua, the whitehead is not a hole-nester which has probably helped it better survive the onslaught of introduced pests.

Forest clearance, once a threat, is luckily now a thing of the past.

Our work

Whitehead/pōpokotea are not threatened, so DOC doesn't have specific work programme for them.

Whitehead on hand. Photo: David Allen.
Whitehead on hand

Of course the work that DOC does in plant and animal pest control increases the quality of whole ecosystems. This ongoing work contributes to the success of many common birds, as well as giving our rarer more susceptible species better chances of survival.

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

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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