Messenger of Matariki
I whea koe i t e tangihanga o te riroriro? (Where were you when the riroriro was singing?)
By Cushla McGaughey
The tiny riroriro is our smallest songbird, light enough to hover at the tip of branches to glean insects and spiders. A forest bird, the Grey Warbler can share our gardens if there are enough trees and not too many sparrows. His remarkably carrying voice trill continues as he moves about, even in flight.
Riroriro pairs tend to stay together, foraging in much the same area all year round. In autumn and winter they may form small flocks and mix with other insect-eating birds such as silvereyes and fantails.
In the breeding season, usually from August to January, each pair of riroriro defends its own territory and chases away intruders approaching the nest.
In early June the star cluster Matariki (Pleiades or the Seven Sisters) reappears in our dawn skies, staying for almost 12 months. The Māori New Year begins with the first new moon after Matariki reappears. It is still winter and long before breeding time, but the Riroriro begins to sing again. It is said that his song conveys the message that it is time to prepare the ground for planting crops. Hence the whakatauki (proverb) directed at those with no crops to harvest:
I whea koe i t e tangihanga o te riroriro?
Where were you when the riroriro was singing?