South Island wren (Xenicus gilviventris)

South Island wren, front view
Loading more images and videos...

South Island wren fact file

South Island wren description

GenusXenicus (1)

The South Island wren is a small but robust alpine bird with a very short tail, rounded wings, and long legs and toes (2) (3). While the male’s plumage is a dull green colour above, grey-brown below and yellow on the flanks, the female is more olive-brown in colour. This charming bird has an unusual habit of vigorously bobbing up and down (3).

Also known as
rock wren.
Length: 10 cm (2)
16 – 20 g (2)

South Island wren biology

Nests are built with leaves, finely shredded grass and feathers, with feathers being laid most thickly on the bottom of the nest, creating a comfortable cushion for the chicks. The reproductive biology of this bird is poorly understood, but pairs are known to breed between October and February, and both parents are thought to care for and feed the growing chicks (2).

The South Island wren is primarily insectivorous, feeding on creatures such as moths, grasshoppers, spiders and worms, but will also occasionally take fruits and seeds from alpine vegetation (2) (3).


South Island wren range

As its common name implies, the South Island wren is endemic to the South Island of New Zealand, although it was formerly also found in the North Island before European colonisation. Fragmented populations now remain only in the South Island, from north-west Nelson, down through Westland and the Southern Alps, to Fiordland (3).


South Island wren habitat

The South Island wren is the only ‘true’ alpine bird in New Zealand, both living and breeding in alpine and subalpine habitat all year round (3) (4). This species inhabits the rocky slopes of mountains and valleys above the timberline, between 920 m and 2,900 m above sea level, which are usually vegetated only with alpine and subalpine low shrublands. Nests are built among loose rock or debris, or on rocky ledges, always close to vegetation (3).


South Island wren status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


South Island wren threats

Like so many of New Zealand’s native birds, the small and fragmented population of South Island wrens is suffering from nest predation by introduced mammals, and is consequently thought to be under serious decline. A study of the species showed significant levels of egg and chick loss to house mice (Mus musculus) and stoats (Mustela erminea). This small bird is particularly vulnerable in years of high stoat numbers due to periodic mouse plagues, which provide additional food for stoats, allowing their populations to multiply (3).


South Island wren conservation

In January 2005, the New Zealand Department of Conservation relocated 24 South Island wrens from the Murchison Mountains to predator-free Anchor Island in Dusky Sound, in an attempt to help ensure the species’ survival. So far the results have been positive, and this additional, relatively secure population serves as a safety measure for the species, should the population on the mainland suffer further declines or even become extinct. Should the relocation of these birds prove to be successful in the long term, this programme may be extended to include relocations to Secretary Island in Doubtful Sound, providing the stoat control scheme planned for the island in 2005 has been successfully completed (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For more information on the South Island wren see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
A species that feeds on insects, typically small, nocturnal mammals.
The elevation at which trees no longer grow.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2006)
  2. New Zealand Birds (May, 2006)
  3. BirdLife International (May, 2006)
  4. Biodiversity Information Online: Rock wrens relocated to Anchor Island (17 February 2005) (May, 2006)

Image credit

South Island wren, front view  
South Island wren, front view

© Geoff Moon /

Natural Visions
6 Vicarage Hill
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1252 716 700
Fax: +44 (0) 1252 727 464


Link to this photo

Arkive species - South Island wren (Xenicus gilviventris) Embed this Arkive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to Arkive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about



MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite Arkive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!


Back To Top