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Home » Environment

Everything you need to know about our amazing New Zealand Tui

Submitted by on June 20, 2012 – 11:35 am 14 Comments

By Joyce Elwood-Smith

The Tui has always held a fascination for me, coming from Christchurch where they no longer like to live they also disappeared from Banks Peninsula about 20years ago.  However in 2007 a group began reintroducing them to the Hinewai reserve. Some are also to be found in native bush near Oxford in the Canterbury foot hills. They are prevalent on the West Coast, Marlborough and Nelson regions and the North Island.  In fact they can be found in about 60% of New Zealand in Native bush areas as well as cosmopolitan cities. They are hardy and adaptable and in Wellington have been aided by  the Karori Bird Reserve (now called Zealandia) which provides safe breeding enabling them to roam widely around the city. Hamilton’s Bushy Park is well known as a popular place for Tui when the Rata is in flower and they are seen and heard in the Orakanui reserve in Dunedin.

The Tui: Known as the chatterboxes of New Zealand birds they are friendly, inquisitive, full of life and sometimes confrontational.

They are first in the dawn chorus, last at dusk, often singing during the day while other birds are silent. A female will sing while she is nesting and her mate in a nearby tree will sing back to her. They have even been heard singing at night around the time of a full moon! They are naturally protective of their nests as they can also be of their food sources, discouraging other birds accordingly. If threatened they have been known to band together and mob magpies and harrier hawks.

Their botanical name is ´Prosthemdera Novae Seelandiae′, called ‘Poe’ or ‘Koko’ by early Maori, and Mocking bird or ‘Parson bird’ by New Zealand’s early settlers because of the white tuft under the chin bright against the shining feathers which although actually an iridescent blue green can look black at first glance, they reminded the English of a clergyman dressed in black cape and breeches with a knotted white scarf tied around his neck. Students of Jane Austin would also know that a Parson was purported to have a beady watchful eye!

Living in Wellington at present I am enjoying the antics of these amusing birds. As I walked up a short track through a patch of bush one day I was fascinated to hear what I was pretty sure must be a parrot. I crept quietly along the path hoping to see perhaps a Kaka, a bird I have only seen in captivity and had no idea if they lived around Wellington. As the chattering grew louder, changing pitch and intonation I became more curious and was convinced this ‘parrot’ was practicing some speech. I looked up and there it was, a Tui going all out in a conversation with itself.

Not long after hearing this Tui I heard a report on National radio that Tui have been recorded and observed copying both voices and sounds. They are known for their loud and unusual call unique and different for each individual bird. They are considered to be as intelligent as Parrots and can and do imitate human speech and other sounds such as a cell phone.

Studies have found that Tui from one area will have a different dialect to Tui from another and their song changes from season to season.

The Tui apparently has a double voice box that enables its vast range of vocalization, sounds that are often beyond the human register. Early Maori trained them to replicate complex speech. Talking Tui were much prized in fact they were taught speeches to welcome visitors to the Marae such as the speech of welcome given by a Tui to Sir George Grey, third Governor of New Zealand who later published it in his book the ‘Sir George Grey book of Poetry’.

There is a small waterfall in Waikato not far from the Mercer railway station called Te Ako-o-te-tui-a-Tamaoho (the teaching of Tamaoho’s Tui Bird). It is to this place Tamaoho took his pet Tui and where amidst the noise of the waterfall creating a sound barrier, so the bird was not distracted with other noises, the bird focussed only on its master’s voice and learned to imitate the long speeches and the karakia of the Marae.

Imagine the perseverance and patience of Tamaoho as he took his bird there day after day, after day.

A tribe called Ngai-Tauira also owned a very remarkable Tui named Tane-mitirangi which was said to possess more than human intelligence. It had learned to repeat the
most powerful karakia and they believed that it also could ‘bewitch’ to order. This greatly prized bird was coveted and eventually stolen by another tribe. Discovering their loss the Ngai-Tauira pursued the offenders who attacked them and many were slain. The few survivors fled to Hawkes Bay.

Visiting Wellington Zoo on a public holiday earlier this year with family we were impressed to see that staff had come in especially to feed birds in the hospital care unit.
Adult and baby birds found hurt in gardens, on roadsides and public spaces brought in by members of the public to be nursed and nurtured back to health. Nearly all of them were Tui. I hope that as a nation we are treating these birds as the unique treasures they are.

They have many predators not the least the domestic cat. The opossum, stoat, ferret, rat and feral cat all introduced to New Zealand on purpose or by accident are deadly enemies preying on baby birds and devouring eggs. They are not on the endangered species list yet! However a look at this list is sobering when you see just how depleted and low the numbers of endangered birds were allowed to sink. In the 1880’s a law was passed banning the hunting of the Tui. They were eaten by Maori and early Europeans who liked them in a ‘pie’ and used their skin to line ladies hats!

We need to encourage these amazing birds.

They are nectar feeders and a lot of us will already have the plants they love such as Flax, Kowhai.  Their beak is perfectly curved to slip into the long narrow throated flowers and their thin tongue designed to brush up the sweet substance. Watching them feed I have often wondered which was made for which as a dusty coating of rust coloured pollen accumulates over their face and head transferring it from flower to flower. Have you ever observed Tui around flax when the nectar has become fermented? Their inebriated behaviour is very comical. They love seeds and small berry fruit which they swallow whole. In winter they are attracted to flowering gum which interestingly is not an indigenous plant.

A way to provide sustenance throughout the cold months is to leave a trough or bowl of sugared water out for them. A feeder can also be made with an upturned bottle working on the same principle as a budgie feeder. You need to provide something for the birds to perch on so their feet do not contaminate the water. It is best to change the solution every day … never leave it longer than two to three days before changing and if you are away wash the container and leave it empty. Always clean thoroughly (without chemicals) before refilling and make sure the family cat cannot get to it!

A simple weak solution of sugar and water is best.

1 tablespoon of white sugar to 1 cup of water or 1 cup of sugar to 2 litres of water.  Do not use brown sugar and never use honey … even though we refer to the Tui as
a honeyeater! Sugar water is more like natural nectar than honey which can become contaminated very quickly producing a microorganism that can be extremely dangerous to birds.

Of course there will be those who will complain about the ‘racket’ Tui can make on an early summer’s morning but if they really can’t sleep they can always plug into their IPod and miss out on the Tui’s joyous welcome to the day with some raucous music of their own choosing!

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Everything you need to know about our amazing New Zealand Tui, 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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14 Comments »

  • Iona says:

    Coming back from nearly 10 years overseas, we knew we where really back in New Zealand when we heard the tui’s in our garden.

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  • Alison Taylor says:

    I was interested to read that the Tui has been reintroduced to the Hinewai Reserve on the Banks Peninsula. We were walking there last January, on the track nearly down to Otanerito Bay, & were surprised & delighted to hear first, & then to see one in the trees above us; the first time we have seen one in this area.

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  • kay says:

    Hi yes I can hear tui from before daylight to dark at the front and back of my flat so could be the female and male calling to each other. Right now I’ve had to shut my window though it’s warm and I can still hear. They just don’t stop all day long. I’m finding it so stressful that I am going to move soon from an otherwise perfect location. They just don’t stop. I can’t think of anything more irritating than the incessant repetitive noise they make. Seriously if I had a gun and the tree wadnt so high I’d shoot them. If anyone has alternative suggestions to moving or shooting I’d be grateful.

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  • Judy says:

    Do Tui’s actually sleep. The ones around here talk all night.

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  • Mike Smith says:

    At present have up to 8 Tui’s and 4 Bell birds feeding at our place in Leith Valley Dunedin

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  • Mike Smith says:

    We are feeding up to 8 Tui’s and 4 Bell birds at our place in Leith Valley Dunedin.

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  • Lesley Airey says:

    Sadly, we found a juvenile (no white poi and light brown tail feathers under dark ones) dead in Mt. Pleasant Christchurch. It had flown into a clear glass balustrade on a deck. I am surmising that this bird has come from Hinewai on Banks peninsula, and while it very unfortunate this bird was killed, it is great news they are spreading to the Christchurch area. Have others seen them in the area?

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  • Sandy says:

    Hi there

    I am confused as to what type of sugar to use? – I had been using raw sugar and then I swapped to white but there are varying comments on which sugar to use and the Tui Restoration website says raw and brown sugar have not extra benefit so they recommend white.

    Regards

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  • Keith McIntyre says:

    What an interesting site, I may have found the answer to my query
    here,in time. Almost every morning we see an adult bird arrive at a tree opp. our house. It flies straight to the very top and settles on the same branch, twig actually, every time. It’s so repetitive with this action in both time and place that we feel certain it’s the same bird. In fact it’s stripped the leaves off the skinny little twig it lands on so it’s easily seen. Even faces the same way, time frame is repetitive, within one hour max every day. Give it 5 to 10 minutes and it’s away. Never noticed any other time of day, or even a second bird. This is so common now we have named him (him?) Ted. Suppose Eruera may have been more appropriate but no complaints yet.Almost gives the idea of a childrens book “Ted the Tui” Forgot, area is Albany, Aucklands North Shore
    Look forward to your reply.

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  • Joyce Elwood-Smith says:

    Hello Keith, great to hear about Ted the Tui he sounds like a great subject for a children’s book. (I like Eruera too…sounds sophisticated) I am living in the Marlborough Sounds now and just loving the Tuis. I have some children’s stories in the pipeline too but not one about a Tui
    …..Yet!!!
    Joyce

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  • Joyce Elwood-Smith says:

    Hi Sandy…Forest & Bird suggest white, brown or raw sugar. Landcare suggest plain white sugar and Zealandia recommends brown or raw sugar…. which needs to be thoroughly dissolved, perhaps with boiling water (and of course left to cool). All the sites state how important it is to keep the feeders scrupulously clean and changed every 2-3 days. The solution should also be quite weak. You may need to experiment and see which one attracts the tuis….I hope you do!
    Joyce

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  • Joyce Elwood-Smith says:

    Lesley..so sad to hear about your baby tui. I would love to know if it came from Hinewai, but Mt Pleasant would be a long way for a baby…maybe they are already spreading to the port hills which is wonderful news. A friend of mine had a kereru fly into her window and leave an imprint of its wings. She was devastated but left it where it had landed and miraculously it recovered and flew off.
    Joyce

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  • Joyce Elwood-Smith says:

    Dear Kay….I apologise for not reading this comment earlier as you may have moved by now…preferable to shooting the tuis!
    Joyce

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  • Liz says:

    Hi Kay, I totally understand you. The tuis in our area are also repetitive and very monotonous with only one note. From 4.30am to after 9.30pm: “toot. toot. toot. toot.” … “toot. toot. toot. toot.”… “toot. toot. toot. toot.” over and over and over nothing else. I adore the other song (warbling, whistling and coughing) tuis can do but we don’t hear that part, all we hear is one note, four times. Over and over and over. It is extremely annoying and stressful – I have to wear ear plugs otherwise it absolutely drives me nuts.

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