Bellbird

Anthornis melanura (Sparrman, 1786)

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Meliphagidae

New Zealand status: Endemic

Conservation status: Not Threatened

Other names: New Zealand bellbird, korimako, makomako, mockie, bell bird

Geographical variation: Three subspecies, all extant. Three Kings bellbird A.m. obscura (At Risk/Naturally Uncommon); Poor Knights bellbird A.m. oneho (At Risk/Naturally Uncommon); bellbird A.m. melanura (Not Threatened). The only other member of this endemic genus was the extinct Chatham Island bellbird A. melanocephala.

Bellbird. Adult male. Dunedin, July 2009. Image © Craig McKenzie by Craig McKenzie Craig McKenzie

Bellbird. Adult male. Dunedin, July 2009. Image © Craig McKenzie by Craig McKenzie Craig McKenzie

Bellbirds are the most widespread and familiar honeyeater in the South Island, and are also common over much of theNorth Island. Their song is a welcome sound in mainland forests that otherwise may have little native bird song. Although they have a brush-like tongue which is used to reach deeply into flowers to reach nectar bellbirds also feed on fruits and insects. In feeding on nectar they play an important ecological role in pollinating the flowers of many native trees and shrubs. Subsequently, when feeding on the fruits that result from this pollination they have a role in dispersing the seeds, and so they assist in the regeneration of the forest in at least two ways.

Identification

Bellbirds are green with a short, curved bill, slightly forked tail, and noisy whirring, fast and direct flight. Adult males are olive green, slightly paler on the underparts, with a head tinted purple; wings and tail blackish. Female are browner with narrow white-yellow stripe across the cheek from the base of the bill, and bluish gloss on top of head. Adults of both sexes have wine-red eyes. Juveniles are similar to females, but with yellowish cheek stripe, brown eyes and lacking the bluish gloss on the head.

Voice: song varies regionally but is ringing notes without grunts or wheezes. Alarm call a rapidly repeated harsh “yeng,”. The famous bell notes noted by Sir Joseph Banks in QueenCharlotteSoundon James Cook 1st voyage toNew Zealand are only heard when many birds are present at once, mostly at dawn and dusk in places of high bellbird density with few other bird species.

Similar species: greenfinch is smaller with a large, pale, conical bill and no purple or blue on the head. Tui is very different in appearance but has similar song that can be distinguished (usually) by the inclusion of additional less musical notes than bellbird, e.g. grunts, clicks and wheezes.

Distribution and habitat

Bellbirds are found in native and exotic forest, scrub, farm shelter belts, urban parks and gardens throughout the North, South, Stewart and Auckland Islands and many offshore islands, although notably rare on the mainland from Waikato northwards, other than on Coromandel Peninsula (where they are common).

Population

Bellbirds are common throughout most of their range, and can reach extraordinarily high densities on predator-free offshore islands. For example, densities of 5.5 to 9.1 pairs per hectare have been reported from Aorangi Island, Poor Knights Islands.

Threats and conservation

Bellbirds have survived well on the mainland and elsewhere in the presence of introduced predators, although they occur in much greater densities on predator-free islands. The cause of the rapid decline of the bellbird from Northland and aroundAuckland in the 1860s is a matter for speculation. At least nine attempts had been made to translocate bellbirds to islands or mainland sites up to 2012; most failed, and none has yet resulted in a well-established population.

Breeding

Bellbirds breed in spring and summer, building a loose nest of twigs and grasses, lined with feathers and fine grasses. Most nests are in a fork under dense cover, from near ground level to >5m. The clutch size is typically 3-4, rarely up to 5 eggs. The female incubates and both parents care for the young.

Behaviour and ecology

Bellbirds are territorial when breeding, but may leave the territory to feed at nearby sources of concentrated food, such as nectar. After breeding they move around, usually alone, although several may feed simultaneously in a flowering tree. Males are substantially larger than females and often dominate at concentrated food sources such as nectar sources. The outer primaries of males are notched and these produce a whirring when the birds are in flight and males accentuate the sound during territorial disputes. The oldest known bird was over 8 years. Banded birds have moved up to 10 km, but they are likely to move greater distances when searching for concentrated food source during winter. Birds that naturally colonised Tawharanui (North Auckland) are believed to have flown from Little Barrier Island 23 km away.

Food

Bellbirds mainly feed on nectar from many native and introduced plants. In late summer and autumn they take fruit, and in beech forests they take honeydew from scale insects on beech trunks. Bellbirds also eat many insects and spiders by gleaning trunks, branches and leaves; also by hawking. Young appear to be fed insects almost exclusively.

Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_Bellbird

http://www.doc.govt.nz/conservation/native-animals/birds/land-birds/bellbird-korimako/

http://www.nzbirds.com/birds/korimako.html

References

Anderson, S.H.; Craig, J.L. 2003. Breeding biology of bellbirds (Anthornis melanura) on Tiritiri Matangi Island. Notornis 50: 75-82.

Bartle, J.A.; Sagar, P.M. 1987. Intraspecific variation in the New Zealand bellbird Anthornis melanura. Notornis 34: 253-306.

Craig, J.L. 1984. Wing noises, wing slots, and aggression in New Zealand honeyeaters (Aves: Meliphagidae). New Zealand Journal of Zoology 11: 195-199.

Craig, J.L.; Stewart, A.M.; Douglas, M.E.1981. The foraging of New Zealand honeyeaters. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 8: 87-91.

Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 1996. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Viking,Auckland.

Higgins, P.J.; Peter, J.M.; Steele, W.K. 2001. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 5, tyrant-flycatchers to chats. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Miskelly, C.M.; Powlesland, R.G. 2013. Conservation translocations of New Zealand birds, 1863-2012. Notornis 60: 3-28.

Sagar, P.M. 1985. Breeding of the bellbird on the Poor Knights Islands. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 12: 643-648.

Sagar, P.M.; Scofield, R.P. 2006. Survival, density and population composition of bellbirds (Anthornis melanura) on the Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 33: 249-257.

Spurr, E.B.; Crossland, A.C.; Sagar, P.M. 2008. Recapture of bellbird likely 8+ years old. Notornis 55: 45.

Spurr, E.B.; Rod, S.; Tranter, K.P. 2011. Food preferences of the bellbird (Anthornis melanura) in forest remnants on the Port Hills, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand. Notornis 58: 139-157.

Recommended citation

Sagar, P.M. 2013. Bellbird. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Bellbird

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun

Bellbird

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
woven cup
Nest height (min)
1.50 m
Nest height (max)
12.00 m
Maximum number of successful broods
Unknown
Clutch size (min)
3
Clutch size (max)
5
Mean egg dimensions (length)
22.40 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
16.50 mm
Egg colour
Pinkish-white with brown or red-brown blotches
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Incubation behaviour
female only
Incubation length (mean)
14.5 to 15.5 days
Nestling type
altricial
Age at fledging (mean)
19 days
Age at independence (mean)
40 days
Age at first breeding (typical)
1 year
Maximum longevity
8 years
Maximum dispersal
Unknown

Three Kings bellbird

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
woven cup
Maximum number of successful broods
Unknwon
Clutch size (mean)
Unknown
Egg colour
Pinkish-white with brown or red-brown blotches
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Incubation behaviour
female only
Incubation length (mean)
Unknown
Nestling type
altricial
Age at fledging (mean)
Unknown
Age at independence (mean)
Unknown
Age at first breeding (typical)
Unknown
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
Unknown

Poor Knights bellbird

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
woven cup
Maximum number of successful broods
1
Clutch size (min)
2
Clutch size (max)
4
Mean egg dimensions (length)
22.70 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
16.10 mm
Egg colour
Pinkish-white with brown or red-brown blotches
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Incubation behaviour
female only
Incubation length (mean)
14.5 to 15.5 days
Nestling type
semi-precocial
Age at fledging (mean)
19 days
Age at independence (mean)
60 days
Age at first breeding (typical)
2 years
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
Unknown