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Acanthisittidae – New Zealand Wrens

acanthisittidae
Rifleman in New Zealand: Photo by Evan Lipton

The Acanthisittidae family, also known as New Zealand wrens, comprises just two surviving species endemic to New Zealand. These tiny, insectivorous birds are notable for their ancient lineage, representing one of the most primitive groups of passerines. Found in forests and alpine regions, they are elusive and known for their distinctive, high-pitched calls.

Overview of Acanthisittidae

These tiny New Zealand endemics resemble diminutive pittas, with long, thin legs, stubby tails, and compact bodies supporting large heads and slender bills. The Rifleman inhabits forests, while the Rockwren prefers alpine rocks and shrubs. They move with the energetic flitting of kinglets, often vanishing into crevices or tree cavities in search of insect prey. Their high-frequency songs and calls are sometimes beyond the range of human hearing. As relicts of an ancient lineage with two of the four known species extinct since human arrival in New Zealand, they highlight the significant loss of avian diversity.