Transgender(?) Bird Observed in New Zealand

What is being described as the first known transgender korimako (New Zealand bellbird) has been observed at the eco-sanctuary Zealandia (and perhaps the first ever known transgender bird).  Zealandia is also known as the Karori Sanctuary (in Maori,  Te Māra a Tāne, The Garden of Tane, who is the Maori creator of trees and plants.  

The photo to the left is of a male korimako.

Staff have taken to referring to the bird as the “butch bellbird.”

The bird has had its DNA tested when it was a chick and has been classified as female, but the bird acts like a male bellbird and has a mix of plumage usually attributed to each sex.  Males are olive green with a dark purplish sheen on their head and black outer wing and tail. While females are a duller olive brown with a blue sheen on the head and yellowish-white stripe curving from the base of the bill to below the eye.

Now 18 months old, the bird has the typical white cheek stripe on one side, but the dark body plumage of a male.

It could be due to a hormonal imbalance or it could be a reaction to shock or an incomplete moult – given the appearance and behaviour, any of those would be unusual though.

–Ben Bell, Victoria University moult expert

The butch bellbird was first noticed by Zealandia conservation officer Erin Jeneway.

There’s something we can’t pin down. We haven’t seen anything like this before.


Jeneway refers to the bird as “her,”, while Matu Booth, a coworker, uses “him.”

Pictured to the right is a female korimako.

When feeding, the honey eater doesn’t flit between flowers like a female, but moves more deliberately, primed to defend attractive food resources.

The bird’s calls have also been mixed – it makes both male calls and the lively “chup chup” of the female, but these are much louder and more frequent than is usual for females.

However, the mixed song is less unusual than the plumage and behaviour.

Here’s live footage of a korimako:

I doubt this will have any effect on the folks who refer to us as “unnatural” and accuse us of going against “God’s Will”, but one has to wonder just how “perverted” a bird can be.

1 comment

    • Robyn on October 13, 2012 at 12:27 am

    …transgender First Nations people, but interesting nonetheless.

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