Bellbird/korimako

Most New Zealanders can easily recognise the bellbird by its melodious song, which Captain Cook described as sounding ‘like small bells exquisitely tuned’.

Well camouflaged, the bellbird is usually heard before it is seen. Females are dull olive-brown, with a slight blue sheen on the head and a pale yellow cheek stripe. Males are olive green, with a purplish head and black outer wing and tail feathers.

Take a listen to some bellbird/korimako song recordings.

Bellbird/korimako. Photo © Andrew Walmsley.
Captain Cook described bellbird/korimako song as sounding ‘like small bells exquisitely tuned’

Where are they found?

Bellbirds are unique to New Zealand, occurring on the three main islands, many offshore islands and also the Auckland Islands.

When Europeans arrived in New Zealand, bellbirds were common throughout the North and South Islands. Their numbers declined sharply during the 1860s in the North Island and 1880s in the South Island, about the time that ship rats and stoats arrived.

Bellbird/korimako.
Bellbird/korimako are unique to New Zealand

For a time it was thought they might vanish from the mainland. Their numbers recovered somewhat from about 1940 onwards, but they are almost completely absent on the mainland north of Hamilton, and are still rare in parts of Wellington, Wairarapa and much of inland Canterbury and Otago.

Bellbird habitat

Bellbirds live in native forest (including mixed podocarp-hardwood and beech forest) and regenerating forest, especially where there is diverse or dense vegetation. They can be found close to the coast or in vegetation up to about 1200 metres.

Bellbird. Photo: Dick Veitch.
Bellbird/korimako songs vary enormously from one place to another, even over short distances

In the South Island they have been found inhabiting plantations of eucalypts, pines or willows. They can be spotted in urban areas, especially if there is bush nearby.

Typically they require forest and scrub habitats, reasonable cover and good local food sources during the breeding season, since they do not travel far from the nest. However, outside the breeding season they may travel many kilometres to feed, especially males.

Did you know?

Just as people from different parts of New Zealand can have noticeable regional accents (think of the Southlander’s rolling ‘r’), bellbirds also sing with regional ‘dialects’.

Bellbird/korimako feeding on flowers. Photo: T De Roy.
Bellbird/korimako feeding on flowers

Bellbird songs vary enormously from one place to another, even over short distances. For example, a study in Christchurch found that birds in three patches of bush on the Port Hills all had different songs.

There is also anecdotal evidence that male and female bellbirds sing different songs, at least during some parts of the year. The song of juveniles is not fully developed straight away so an expert can distinguish their songs from adult songs.

Quick facts

  • Bellbirds are generalist feeders; they eat nectar, fruit and insects, with insects being particularly important to females and chicks during the breeding season.
  • They often feed in tree canopies but do come down to feed on flax and native fuchsia nectar.
  • As nectar-feeders (or ‘honeyeaters’ as scientists call them), bellbirds are important pollinators of many native plant species, such as mistletoe, fuchsia and kowhai.
  • The breeding season is approximately September through to February. Bellbirds are strongly territorial during the breeding season.
  • Bellbirds tend to nest in trees, and prefer trees with dense foliage for cover.
  • Bellbirds are known to mate with the same partner year after year, and the pair maintains the same breeding territory each year.
  • The female makes the nest, lays 3 to 5 eggs, and incubates the clutch.
  • Both parents feed the chicks, which fledge after 14 days. A pair can raise two broods in a season.
  • Bellbird song comprises three distinct sounds resembling the chiming of bells.
  • They sing throughout the day, but more so in the early morning and late evening. The alarm call is a series of loud, rapidly repeated, harsh staccato notes.

Bellbird/korimako. Photo © Sabine Bernert.
Bellbird/korimako are important pollinators of many native plant species, such as mistletoe, fuchsia and kowhai

Bellbird/korimako song sound recordings

Listen to or download recordings of bellbird/korimako song.

Bellbird/korimako group (MP3, 2,821K)
1 minute 22 second recording of five adult birds singing in mixed forest beside a track on Little Barrier Island

Adult male bellbird/korimako (MP3, 561K)
35 second recording of a single adult male bellbird/korimako

Adult bellbird/korimako alarm call (MP3, 1,300K)
1 minute 22 second recording of an adult bellbird/korimako sitting in a tree near a track giving an alarm call

Find more bird song recordings

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Copyright of files: Song files may be reused as long as you attribute the work to the Department of Conservation. Read our Copyright terms.

Threats

Although bellbirds are still widespread on the New Zealand mainland, research has shown that mammalian predators, such as rats and stoats, keep their numbers low.

Bellbird/korimako. Photo © Rob Scotcher.
Bellbird/korimako tend to nest in trees, and prefer trees with dense foliage for cover

Where bellbirds persist on the mainland, numbers are usually lower than on islands where predators are absent. While possums have not been proven to kill bellbirds, they do compete with bellbirds for food.

DOC's work with bellbird/korimako

Bellbirds are among the species benefiting from DOC's pest control work.

Read more about DOC's pest control methods.

Bellbirds return to Motutapu Island

In 2010 the bellbird was rediscovered on Motutapu Island, after an absence of more than 100 years.

This follows one of New Zealand’s largest ever island pest eradication programmes on Motutapu and Rangitoto Islands in 2009.

You can help

There are various ways you can help protect bellbirds. You can plant a range of native plants that provide foods year-round will encourage bellbirds into your garden.

Bellbird/korimako. Photo: R Cole.
To encourage bellbirds/korimako into your garden, plant a range of native plants that provide year-round food

Find out more about how to attract birds to your garden.

If you live near a patch of native forest, consider setting traps for stoats and/or rats on your land. Snap traps (the stoat version is called a Fenn trap) should be placed in a wooden or wire-mesh tunnel so birds and other animals cannot easily enter and be harmed.

Bait the trap with a small piece of meat, or a hen’s egg. Check the trap regularly to remove dead animals. You can access more information on traps from your local Department of Conservation office.

If you have a cat, put a bell on its collar – this seems to save some birds, while not preventing the cats from catching rodents.

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New Zealand Birds Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand birds

Contacts

DOC's 24 hour emergency hotline:

0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)

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