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Intraspecific variation in the New Zealand Bellbird Anthornis melanura

  • Publication Type

    Journal Article

  • Publication Year


  • Author(s)

    J.A. Bartle, P.M. Sagar

  • Journal Name


  • Volume, Issue

    34, 4

  • Pagination


  • Article Type



bellbird; intraspecific variation

Intraspecific variation in the New Zealand Bellbird Anthornis melanura

Notornis, 34 (4), 253-306

J.A. Bartle, P.M. Sagar (1987)

Article Type: Paper



Intraspecific variation in morphometrics, plumage colouration, moult and breeding is described and its taxonomic significance assessed. There is a latitudinal cline in morphometrics and colouration among mainland, nearshore island, and Auckland Is populations. Southern bellbirds are larger and more brightly coloured, but they have shorter bills. Intensity and hue of the iridescent head and olive-green plumage colouration are determined by the degree of melanism, which increases southward and on all isolated islands but the Three Kings. Age and sex differences in plumage colouration are also caused by the different degrees of melanism. The degree of melanism may be reduced by the dryness of the environment, particularly in the period before moult. Overlain on this cline are insular trends in morphometrics, colouration, moult, and breeding pattern. Bellbirds, particularly males, from isolated islands are larger than those on the mainland, whereas clutches are fewer and smaller, and breeding seasons and adult moult earlier. The sue increase occurs whether other species of honeyeater are present or not and may result from high densities and the increased tendency of males and females to use different feeding niches. The relative body proportions of island populations vary and wing length does not increase as rapidly as body size. A new subspecies is described from the Poor Knights Is. It is characterised by a distinctly blue rather than violet iridescent head in males, an immature plumage phase, and other differences in sue, relative proportions, breeding, and time of moult. The nomenclature and taxonomic status of other island subspecies and of the extinct Northland bellbird A. dumerilii are reviewed. A. dumerilii and A. incoronata are regarded as synonyms of A.m. melanura.