What do they look like?
• Bellbirds are slightly smaller than blackbirds at 20cm long.
• The male bellbird has red eyes while the female has brown.
• The male bird is olive green in colour with a yellow-green belly.
• The female bellbird is a drabber brown colour with a thin white stripe running from the bill across the cheek.
Where do they live?
• Bellbirds are only found in New Zealand. They are endemic to our country.
• Bellbirds are common in the South Island and some forested parts and offshore islands of the North Island, however, they are rarely seen on mainland New Zealand from the Waikato northwards with the exception of the Coromandel Peninsula.
• Although they are mainly bush birds bellbirds can be found in suburban gardens and parks where there
What do they eat?
• Bellbirds are honeyeaters like the tui and the stitchbird (or hihi). They have a special tongue a bit like a toothbrush, which enables them to sip the nectar out of the flowers.
• As well as nectar, bellbirds will eat insects and berries.
• Bellbirds are important to the forest because they pollinate forest flowers and spread small seeds. When the bird pokes its head into a flower to reach the nectar, pollen sticks to its head feathers. Then when the bird flies to another flower the pollen brushes onto the sticky stigma and a seed begins to form.
• Bellbirds can be seen in town more often in spring when the kowhai trees are in flower. They also like to feed on the nectar of rewarewa and flax flowers at this time of the year.
• In summer they will feed on the nectar of the rata and pohutukawa flowers.
• In autumn they eat the berries of the totara and kahikatea trees.
• And in winter they feed on the flower nectar of the puriri tree.
• You can attract a bellbird to your garden by planting suitable trees or you can hang a nectar feeder in the garden and filling it with sugar water.
The sweetest sound
The bellbird wins the award for the sweetest singer in Aotearoa. It may be hard to imagine but before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed there were so many bellbirds that it would have been like waking up with the dawn to an avian orchestra each morning. Captain James Cook said of the bellbird “This wild melody was infinitely superior to any that we had heard of the same kind; it seemed to be like small bells most exquisitely tuned…”
Who can it be now?
• It can be quite hard to tell the difference between a singing tui and bellbird.
• The male bellbird has a bell-like chiming call without any grunts or wheezes.
• The alarm call of the bellbird is a loud ‘yeng-yeng-yeng’ sound.
• The female bird builds a nest of loosely built twigs lined with feathers and fine grass and lays three to five pinkish white eggs each September.
Paying a compliment
One way to compliment a really good singer or a great speaker is to liken them to a bellbird with the Maori saying “he rite ki te kopara e ko nei te ata”, which means “like a bellbird pealing at daybreak”.