A bird without fear
By Cushla McGaughey
Toutouwai are exceptionally fearless and inquisitive. They will approach people to feed in leaf litter disturbed by their feet, and even take crumbs from their hands. Homesick settlers named them robins, reminded of the friendly redbreasts left behind. European robins belong with thrushes among the songbirds. Toutouwai belong to the flycatcher family, as fantails do, but prefer life in the shade of the forest under-storey.
Tomtits, smallest of our Australasian Robins, are treetop dwellers. They have adapted to cleared land and even to living in exotic forests. Robins were not as fortunate. Once widespread, toutouwai fled as native forests made way for settlements. No robins for us, perched on garden spades: they are instead safe on Kapiti Island, where they can feed on the softly-lit forest floor.
The petako or sickle spleenwort also prefers dappled light. It usually grows from trees or logs, sometimes from the ground, with its shiny fronds hanging or arching gracefully. When ferns became popular in England during the 1820s, this beautiful species caught the eye of Victorian plant collectors and has been cultivated over there ever since.