New Zealand pipit

Anthus novaeseelandiae (Gmelin, 1789)

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Motacillidae

New Zealand status: Endemic

Conservation status: Declining

Other names: pipit, pīhoihoi, pihoihoi, Richard's pipit

Geographical variation: Four subspecies, all extant: New Zealand pipit A. n. novaeseelandiae (At Risk/Declining); Chatham Island pipit A. n. chathamensis (At Risk/Naturally uncommon); Auckland Island pipit A. n. aucklandicus (At Risk/Recovering); Antipodes Island pipit A. n. steindachneri (At Risk/Naturally Uncommon).

New Zealand pipit. Adult. Whangaehu River estuary, December 2010. Image © Ormond Torr by Ormond Torr

New Zealand pipit. Adult. Whangaehu River estuary, December 2010. Image © Ormond Torr by Ormond Torr

The New Zealand pipit is a small brown-and-white songbird that resembles a lark, but has longer legs, and walks rather than hops. They are birds of open country, including the tideline of sandy beaches, rough pasture, river beds and above the tree-line. Pipits are members of the wagtail family, and frequently flick their long tails as they walk. In flight their tails have narrow white sides – a character shared with skylarks, chaffinches, yellowhammers and cirl buntings.

Identification

New Zealand pipits are slender, small to medium-sized, long-tailed songbirds that are predominantly streaked grey-brown above and off-white below, with brown streaking on the breast. They have a prominent pale eyebrow stripe, and white outer tail feathers. Their crown is streaked grey-brown, lacking any crest (cf. skylark) The bill is fine and dark, and the legs long, slender and pale brown. Pipits are often confiding, allowing closer approach than most open country songbirds. They walk or run, characteristically flicking their tail up and down whenever they stop walking, or when perched.

Voice: the main call given all year is a strident tzweep. Song given in air with arched fluttering flight over home ranges. Tswee call given from fence posts and on the ground when gathering large invertebrates to feed young on the nest.

Similar species: skylarks are tawnier, more likely to fly when disturbed, are shorter legged, hop rather than walk, and have a small erectile crest on the back of the crown. Female house sparrows and chaffinches have conical bills, and white wing-bars on the inner upperwing.

Distribution and habitat

New Zealand pipits are widespread in rough open habitats from the coastline to alpine shrublands at c.1900 m. They are often seen along coastlines and rivers, in alpine areas in the South Island, and coastal margins and alpine areas on Stewart Island. Pipits are present within felled compartments of pine forests in the central North Island, and around remaining wetlands in the central North Island. They have declined in nearby subalpine habitats that have been taken over by heather. Pipits are common in farmland and open shrublands on Chatham and Pitt Islands, and in tussock grasslands and open habitats on the Auckland Island, Campbell Island and Antipodes Islands.

Population

Farmland population estimates for pipits were 0.37 pairs/per ha on Chatham Island, and 0.036 pairs/ha at Waipu Caves, Whangarei.

Threats and conservation

Pipits probably benefitted initially from forest clearance, but have declined in density as land-use has intensified. Heavily grazed pasture and drained wetlands hold fewer pipits than rough pasture with patches of fern, and marshes or bogs. Pipits have declined from drought-prone regions, and have disappeared from many islands where rats are present. While pipits use clear-felled pine forest blocks in the central North Island, they are preferentially hunted by New Zealand falcons there, compared to introduced passerines. Pipit have greatly benefitted from rat eradication on some islands, most spectacularly on 11,000 ha Campbell Island in the New Zealand subantarctic.

Breeding

New Zealand pipits breed during August-March. The nest is a sizable cup of woven grass under tussocks and grass clumps within fern, and partly or fully covered with vegetation. Clutch size is typically 2-4 (average 3) eggs. Both sexes feed young on the nest. Incubation takes 14-16 days and chicks fledge at 14 days. Adults land and take concealed routes to nests. Chicks are noisy during and after feeding. Chicks do not congregate after fledging, and parents and fledglings can end up hundreds of meters from nest sites. The number of clutches per annum is unknown.

Behaviour and ecology

Pipits are approachable, often running a short distance in front of people walking, rather than flying away. Some home ranges are occupied all year and others are deserted in the late summer. Flocks of first-year pipits and adults are seen in areas where there was no breeding population. Flock sizes are generally indicative of the population size. Flocks of tens to hundreds of pipits fanned out either sides of moving locomotives before the Volcanic Plateau was converted from swamp and shrubland to farms and plantation forests.

Food

Pipits are omnivorous, consuming grains, seeds, and small invertebrates. Flying invertebrates taken include flies, mayflies, small butterflies and cicadas. Foraging methods adapt to the types of prey being targeted. They range from pecking at mat plants, to dashing along the ground and into short flights when after flies, to rising up into the wind over lakes to catch mayflies passing overhead.

Websites

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

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

References

Beauchamp, A.J. 1995. The status of the New Zealand pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae) in the Wellington Region. Notornis 42: 117-125.

Beauchamp, A.J. 2009. Distribution and habitat use by New Zealand pipits (Anthus n. novaeseelandiae) on the Volcanic Plateau. Notornis 56: 183-189.

Beauchamp, A.J. 2007. Notes on New Zealand pipit (Anthus n. novaeseelandiae) home ranges, parental care, and the behaviour of dependent young. Notornis 54: 112-114.

Beauchamp, A. J. 2013. New Zealand pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae) presence and breeding status using car and walk surveys near Whangarei, New Zealand. Notornis 60: 125-133.

Higgins, P.J.; Peter, J.M.; Cowling, S.J. (eds.) 2006. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 7, boatbill to starlings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Thompson, D.R.; Bearhop, S.; Ross, B. 2005. Spread of Australasian pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae) onto Campbell Island following the eradication of Norway rats (Rattus novegicus). Notornis 52: 43-46.

Recommended citation

Beauchamp, A.J. 2013 [updated 2017]. New Zealand pipit. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

New Zealand pipit

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

New Zealand pipit

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
woven cup
Nest description
Deep woven cup of grass concealed under object.
Nest height (min)
0.00 m
Nest height (max)
1.00 m
Maximum number of successful broods
Unknown
Clutch size (min)
2
Clutch size (max)
4
Mean egg dimensions (length)
21.15 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
14.70 mm
Egg colour
Cream with substantial brown blotches at the blunt end
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
Unknown
Incubation behaviour
shared
Incubation length (min)
14days
Incubation length (max)
16days
Nestling type
altricial
Nestling period (mean)
14 days
Age at fledging (mean)
Unknown
Age at independence (mean)
Unknown
Age at first breeding (typical)
Unknown
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
Unknown

Chatham Island pipit

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
woven cup
Nest description
Deep woven cup concealed in dense vegetation.
Nest height (mean)
0.00 m
Nest height (min)
0.00 m
Nest height (max)
0.00 m
Maximum number of successful broods
Unknown
Clutch size (min)
1
Clutch size (max)
4
Mean egg dimensions (length)
21.15 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
14.70 mm
Egg colour
Cream with substantial brown blotches at the blunt end.
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
Unknown
Incubation behaviour
shared
Incubation length (min)
14days
Incubation length (max)
16days
Nestling type
altricial
Nestling period (min)
14 days
Nestling period (max)
16days
Age at fledging (mean)
14 days
Age at independence (mean)
Unknown
Age at first breeding (typical)
Unknown
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
Unknown

Auckland Island pipit

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
woven cup
Nest description
Deep woven cup concealed in dense vegetation.
Nest height (mean)
0.00 m
Nest height (min)
0.00 m
Nest height (max)
0.00 m
Maximum number of successful broods
Unknown
Clutch size (mean)
Unknown
Egg colour
Cream with substantial brown blotches at the blunt end.
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
Unknown
Incubation behaviour
shared
Incubation length (mean)
Unknown
Nestling type
altricial
Nestling period (mean)
Unknown
Age at fledging (mean)
Unknown
Age at independence (mean)
Unknown
Age at first breeding (typical)
Unknown
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
Unknown

Antipodes Island pipit

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
woven cup
Nest description
Deep woven cup concealed in dense vegetation.
Nest height (mean)
0.00 m
Nest height (min)
0.00 m
Nest height (max)
0.00 m
Maximum number of successful broods
Unknown
Clutch size (mean)
Unknown
Egg colour
Cream with substantial brown blotches at the blunt end
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
Unknown
Incubation behaviour
shared
Incubation length (mean)
Unknown
Nestling type
altricial
Nestling period (mean)
Unknown
Age at fledging (mean)
Unknown
Age at independence (mean)
Unknown
Age at first breeding (typical)
Unknown
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
Unknown