They're little, they're fluffy and, for the first time, they're all ours.

A Kiwi-led research team has discovered three endangered New Zealand birds are part of a new songbird family - the mohouidae.

Massey University post-doctoral fellow Dr Michael Anderson said the finding was special because the birds - the brown creeper, the whitehead and the critically endangered yellowhead - were previously considered to be part of a wider Australasian family. "Now we know they're unique to New Zealand."

The finding, made after DNA samples were taken from each of the three species and examined over a year in the United States, would also help protect the family, he said.


"It's really important for conservation to know they're globally unique. We need to preserve them because if we lose them it's not just a species that disappears, it's a whole family."

Their relationship had been suspected since the 1950s, but could not be proven until the DNA samples were taken.

Scientists from Australia and the United States were also involved in the project.