Once common throughout the North Island, its numbers were decimated by the introduction of rats and stoats that arrived with the early European settlers. By the late 1800’s a small island north of Auckland and due East of the Marsden Point Oil Refinery called Hen (Taranga) Island, was the only place with a surviving natural population of these birds. All other populations established on mainland sites have originally been translocated from this island.
The bird’s current population is estimated to be around 7000 although there has never been a formal count. It is part of the wattlebird family that includes birds with wattles that hang from the base of their beaks such as kōkako and the extinct huia. The bird’s call is unique and almost sounds like someone laughing.