This paper reviews and updates the distribution and status of two geographically
distinct subspecies of New Zealand Saddleback Philesturnus carunculatus, a New
Zealand forest passerine that is highly susceptible to predation by introduced mammals
such as stoats and rats. The recovery of the North Island and South Island saddleback
populations has been rapid since translocations to offshore islands free of exotic predators
began in 1964, when both subspecies were on the brink of extinction. South Island saddlebacks
have gone from a remnant population of 36 birds on one island to over 1,200 birds spread among
15 island populations, with the present capacity to increase to a maximum of 2,500 birds.
We recommend that South Island saddleback be listed under the IUCN category of Near Threatened,
although vigilance on islands for invading predators and their subsequent rapid eradication is
still required. North Island saddlebacks have gone from a remnant population of 500 birds on
one island to over 6,000 on 12 islands with the capacity to increase to over 19,000 individuals.
We recommend that this subspecies be downgraded to the IUCN category of Least Concern.
The factors that limited the early recovery of saddlebacks are now of less significance with
recent advances in predator eradication techniques allowing translocations to large islands
that were formerly unsuitable. The only two predators that still cohabit some islands with
saddleback are Pacific rats or kiore Rattus exulans and Weka Gallirallus australis,
a flightless native rail. Although North Island saddlebacks coexist with kiore, South Island
saddlebacks do less well in their presence, possibly because the relict population had no previous
history with this species of rat. The impact of Weka as predators of saddlebacks is less clear,
but population growth rates appear to be slowed in their presence. It is recommended that while
current recovery strategies involving island habitat restoration and translocations be maintained,
management effort should also be directed towards returning saddlebacks to selected, “mainland
island” sites, where introduced pests are either excluded by predator-proof fences or
controlled at very low levels by intensive pest management.