Image: 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

Emergency hotline

Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife.

Help protect our native birds

When visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
  • Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
  • Check for pests when visiting pest-free islands.
  • Leave nesting birds alone.
  • Use available access ways to get to the beach. 
  • Avoid leaving old fishing lines on beaches or in the sea.
  • Follow the water care code and local navigation bylaws.
  • Don't drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.
Other ways to help
  • Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
  • Volunteer to control predators and restore bird habitats.
  • Set predator traps on your property.
  • Put a bell on your cat's collar and feed it well.
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