If you’re into family ticks, and into armchair ticks, well, I hope you’ve been to New Zealand, because the island just got another endemic bird family. Say hello to the Mohouidae.

whitehead Rosie

Whitehead (Mohoua albicilla) by Rosie Perera (Creative Commons)

That the three species of mohoua (genus Mohoua) are New Zealand’s newest family is hardly a surprise. Like many of the new families they represent a lineage that no one could quite work out where to put. They have most recently been placed with the whistlers, and Australasian group that is something of a dumping ground for antipodean oddities, but they have also been placed, awkwardly at times, with the tits, babblers, logrunners, cuckoo-shrikes, fairy wrens, Old World warblers (obviously) and the Australasian warblers.

There are three species of mohoua, the Whitehead, Yellowhead and Brown Creeper (Americans unable to distinguish between creepers and treecreepers notwithstanding). The Yellowhead is endangered, the other two are a bit commoner in protected forests. Interestingly all three species are restricted to a single island, two on South Island and one on North Island. They are mostly arboreal, and are the only host species of one of New Zealand’s two cuckoo species, the Long-tailed Cuckoo.



Brown Creeper (Mohoua novaseelandiae) by Tom Tarrant (Creative Commons)

So welcome mohoua’s to the exalted ranks of New Zealand’s endemic bird families, the kiwi, New Zealand wrens, wattlebirds, New Zealand parrots and the Stitchbird. They are another sign of New Zealand’s amazing biodiversity, and the long evolutionary history and isolation. Hopefully they will remain part of that history.

Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.