New Zealand wattlebirds
Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris)
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Inopinaves
Order: Passeriformes
Suborder: Passeri
Superfamily: Callaeoidea
Family: Callaeidae
Sundevall, 1836


The small bird family Callaeidae (also named in some sources as Callaeatidae) is endemic to New Zealand. It contains three monotypic genera; of the three species in the family, only two survive and both of them, the Kokako and the Saddleback, are endangered species, threatened primarily by the predations of introduced mammalian species such as rats, mustelids and possums. A third, the Huia became extinct early in the 20th century.

The Callaeidae are often known as wattlebirds, a term that leads to confusion, as there are other, unrelated species with this same name, notably the large Australian wattlebirds of the family Meliphagidae, which are honeyeaters. For this reason New Zealand wattlebirds is the informal name for this family used by the scientific community.[1]

Biology and evolution

The two surviving species are ground-dwelling songbirds, 26–38 cm in length. They inhabit dense forests, where they feed on insects. They have strong legs and featherless wattles behind the bill. Their wings are rounded and unusually weak, giving them very limited powers of flight. They are monogamous and maintain permanent territories.[2]

These birds seem to be remnants of an early expansion of passerines to New Zealand. They have no close relatives except the stitchbird, and their more distant relationships are likewise still unknown.[3]

A molecular study of the nuclear RAG-1 and c-mos genes of the three species within the family proved inconclusive, the data providing most support for either a basally diverging Kokako or Huia.[4]


  1. ^ Higgins, P.J. & J.M. Peter (eds) 2002. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume 6: Pardalotes to Shrike-thrushes. Oxford University Press, Melbourne. ISBN 0-19-553762-9
  2. ^ Lindsey, Terence (1991). Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. p. 225. ISBN 1-85391-186-0. 
  3. ^ Ewen, John G.; Flux, Ian; Ericson, Per G. P.; et al. (2006). "Systematic affinities of two enigmatic New Zealand passerines of high conservation priority, the hihi or stitchbird Notiomystis cincta and the kokako Callaeas cinerea". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 40 (1): 281–284. PMID 16527495. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.01.026. 
  4. ^ Shepherd, Lara D.; Lambert, David M. (2007). "The relationships and origins of the New Zealand wattlebirds (Passeriformes, Callaeatidae) from DNA sequence analyses". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 43 (2): 480–92. PMID 17369056. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.12.008. 


Sterna diversity This article is part of Project Bird Families, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on each bird family, including made-up families.
Hemipus picatus This article is part of Project Bird Taxonomy, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on every order, family and other taxonomic rank related to birds.
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