a web page by Don Roberson

MOHOUIDS Mohouidae
Whitehead & allies

  • 3 species in New Zealand
  • DR personal total: 1 species (33%), 1 photo'd

The Mohouidae are three species of small songbirds that are endemic to New Zealand. Because they were merged for so many years in other families, there is not any good name for the set. We'll use "mohouids." . Others call them "mohouas" or "Whiteheads." The three species are Whitehead Mohoua albicilla on North Island with Yellowhead Mohoua ochrocephala and Pipipi Mohoua novaeseelandiae on South Island. Pipipi is a local name now widely adopted by global checklists. English-language field guides to New Zealand (e.g., Heather & Robertson 1996) call it "Brown Creeper," an old term in New Zealand but oblivious to the Brown Creeper Certhia americana in North America. [Perhaps, as the two are on opposite sides of the world, folks think it makes no difference.] Pipipi is smaller than the other two in size, and often placed in the monotypic genus Finschia.

Yellowhead is the the more widespread mohouid on South Island (left, a photo by Murray Lord) but its range has been reduced in recent decades. It prefer large tracts of native southern beech (Nothofagus), especially those with open understory.

Whitehead (right) is the only mohouid on North Island, where it occurs patchily and locally in native forest, adjacent gardens, and sometimes scrubland. It is about the size of Great Tit Parus major but the proportions are different, being longer-tailed and bigger-billed. They are usually are found in pairs.

Mohouids have previously been included in many different families. Boles (2007) mentions Paridae, Timaliidae, Orthonychidae, Campephagidae, Sylviidae, Maluridae, Pardalotidae, and Acanthizidae. Sibley & Monroe (1990) and Dickinson (2003) put them in the latter family, among Australasian warblers. Boles (2007) included them in a very broad Whistler family [Pachycephalidae]. Heather & Robertson (1996) also put them in Whistlers.

Norman et al. (2009) and Jønsson et al. (2011) were the first genetic works to suggest the mohouids were not closely related to any known family. Aggerbeck et al. (2014) found strong support for the Mohouidae as the basal clade in the corvoid assemblage, and all global checklists have now elevated them to Family level.

As a group, Heather & Robertson (1996) describe the mohouids as "small, robust, forest and scrub birds that have relatively large rounded heads and short stout bills for catching insects amongst foliage and from crevices on branches and trunks. Most species have loud and varied calls usually melodious but sometimes harsh and scolding. In a vague sense to an American readers, this fits perhaps the niche that vireos fill in forested North America.


Photos: Murray Lord photographed the Yellowhead Mohoua ochrocephala on South Island, New Zealand, on 24 Sep 2013. The Whitehead Mohoua albicilla was on Tiritiri Matangi Island, off North Island, New Zealand, on 13 Nov 2009.

      Uncredited photos © Don Roberson. Credited photos © Murray Lord, as credited, and used with permission; all rights reserved.

Bibliographic note: There is no "family book" but the mohouids were covered within the Whistler family, with a couple of nice photos, in Boles (2007).

Literature cited:

Aggerbeck, M., J. Fjeldså, L. Christidis, P.-H. Fabre, K.A. Jønsson (2014), Resolving deep lineage divergences in core corvoid passerine birds supports a proto-Papuan island origin, Mol. Phylog. Evol. 70: 272–285.

Dickinson, E., ed. 2003. The Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. 3d ed. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.

Heather, B., and H. Robertson. 1996. Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. Penguin Books, Auckland, N.Z.

Norman, J.A., P.G.P. Ericson, K.A. Jønsson, J. Fjeldså, and L. Christidis. 2009. A multi-gene phylogeny reveals novel relationships for aberrant genera of Australo–Papuan core Corvoidea and polyphyly of the Pachycephalidae and Psophodidae (Aves: Passeriformes). Molec. Phylog. Evol. 52: 488–497.

Jønsson, K.A., P.-H. Fabrea, R.E. Ricklefs,, and J. Fjeldså (2011b), Major global radiation of corvoid birds originated in the proto-Papuan archipelago, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 108, 2328-2333.

Boles, W.E. 2007. Family Pachycephalidae (Whistlers), pp. 374 –437 in Handbook of the Birds of the World (del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & D.A. Christie, eds). Vol. 12. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Sibley, C.G., and J.E. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds: a Study of Molecular Evolution. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT.




  page created on 26 Dec 2015  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved