Chatham Island Black Robin

New Zealand Chatham Island Black Robin

An amazing story of survival

Black Robin 

  • In 1980 there were only five black robins left.
  • They nearly became extinct!
  • Today there are 200.
    Their survival has depended on one special robin and on the work of caring wildlife officers.

Long ago, hundreds of Black robins (toutouwai) lived on the Chatham Islands. They sang in the forest and ate grubs, weta and worms on the forest floor. Then people came. They burnt the forest to make farmland.

Cats caught the robins and rats ate their eggs and chicks. Soon all the robins on the main Chatham Island were gone. Just a few survived on Little Mangere Island.

Little Mangere Island is tiny. Its cliffs are 200 metres tall, keeping it safe from rats, cats and people. But it was so small and wind-swept that the forest was dying. The robins’ tiny wings were not strong enough for them to fly away to find another home.

This is the story of how the back robin made a comeback!


Now there are about 200 Black robins singing in the forests of Mangere and South East Islands.

  • The main population of black robins now lives on South East Island, which has more homes and food for the birds because it is much larger and has more forest area than Mangere Island.
  • The total of 200 black robins was from both islands. It's not possible to get an exact count because many of the younger birds do not have coloured leg bands.
  • There are no rats, cats or possums on Mangere or South east Island.
  • All the black robins alive are descended from just one pair, Old Blue and Old Yellow.

What a marvellous story of conservation and survival! The fostering programme used to save the black robin was so successful that it has been copied to save endangered birds around the world – how lucky New Zealand is to have such wonderful conservation officers and volunteers!