The Rifleman (Acanthisitta chloris)


The Rifleman or Titipounamu is one small bird, thought to be New Zealand’s smallest in fact, measuring between 6-7g and only 7-9cm long.  It is endemic to New Zealand and is one of only 2 surviving members (originally 6) of the New Zealand Wren family (Acanthisittidae) along with the Rock/South Island Wren.  Like a lot of the smaller species, this proved a tricky one on  #BeakoftheWeek.

The Rifleman sounds like it belongs on the front line, which is unsurprising given that its name apparently stemmed from a resemblance to a regiment in the New Zealand armed forces.  Although it looks like a member of the true wren family (Troglodytidae) or a fairy-wren (Maluridae) it is not related to either.  You can have a look where it sits in the avian phylogeny on OneZoom.

Male Rifleman in a flap

Male Rifleman in a flap

This species is sexually dimorphic and you can see in these pictures the clear differences between the males and females.  They are monogamous with long-term pair bonds and are cooperative breeders, with helpers, usually offspring from previous breeding seasons, aiding them with feeding chicks and other duties.

Breeding occurs between August and February. Enclosed spherical nests are built in existing cavities, with the lion’s share carried out by the male.  2-5 eggs are laid that take ~20 days to hatch and a further 24 days for the chicks to fledge.  Incubation and nestling and fledgling feeding duties are shared between the breeding pair with some help from helpers with feeding.

Rifleman are insectivorous and partial to tasty treats such as spiders, moths and butterflies, flies and wingless crickets.  They forage in pairs or small groups, rarely alone.  They rarely forage on the floor and take most of their prey from trunks, branches and twigs. As poor fliers they mostly just make short flights between the canopy.

If you are on a trip to New Zealand to seek one of these chaps out then you should head to some mature forests, and listen out for some of these songs on Xeno Canto.  They are of ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN redlist, although their population is said to be in decline due to habitat destruction and introduced pests such as stoats.

The final piece of the puzzle if of course seeing them in action if you are not lucky enough to be on an adventure to New Zealand.  Below is a nice video showing some great close-ups of a male at a nest box:



BirdLife International 2012. Acanthisitta chloris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 01 September 2015.

BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Acanthisitta chloris. Downloaded from on 01/09/2015.

Gill, B. (2004). Rifleman (Acanthisitta chloris). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 1 September 2015).

Withers, S. 2013. Rifleman. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds

Images and Videos

“Acanthisitta chloris chloris” by Jon Sullivan is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.

EYESEALAND Visual Media. 2010. Rifleman on Tiritiri Matangi Island. Online. 01/09/2015. Available from:

“Suffolk Stoats” from wikimedia commons is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.