The call of the Tui

By Ngaire Deed.

We have Australian coastal banksia trees sheltering our house enclosure and the tui love the nectar producing flowers in the winter when there are very few native varieties available. Most mornings we are woken by the call of the tui just outside our bedroom window. We have one at present that starts at 4.30 in the morning which is a bit early for us.
They are great at mimicking and often their song is unique from one bird to another and we find that interesting to have individual birds telling different stories. We had one that sounded like a telephone ringing, which fooled us a few times.
We often sit and watch their antics as they fly to and fro, and boss one another around in the trees of our bush block. We often have quite big flocks of birds in the banksias and they nest in the bush. We have an old rewarewa tree which was damaged in high winds and is bare at the top. It is a favourite vantage point for many birds, especially the male tui.
They are adaptable birds, and are often found in suburban areas, particularly in winter if there is a flowering gum about. They are becoming more common in the suburbs of our towns. These attractive birds can often be heard singing their beautiful melodies long before they are spotted. The majority of a tui’s song is of a pitch so high that the human ear cannot hear it.
Tui are unique to New Zealand and belong to the honeyeater family, which means they feed mainly on nectar from flowers of native plants. They particularly love the kowhai, puriri and flax, but also enjoy introduced flora like the banksia and bottlebrush. If you are fortunate to glimpse one, you will recognise them by the distinctive white tuft under their throat. This tuft contrasts dramatically with the metallic blue-green sheen to their underlying black colour. Because of this tuft they are sometimes called the Parson bird. They are important pollinators of many native trees and will fly large distances, especially during winter for their favourite foods. Tui will live where there is a balance of ground cover, shrubs and trees, they are quite aggressive, and will chase other birds away, even other tui. They nest in fairly thick vegetation and like an overhanging branch above their nest to help protect it.
I have a book written by Waiuku born Meg Lipscombe, which is a photographic record of a tui nest from the time of building to the chicks fledging. It is fascinating. A good sign of a successful restoration programme, in areas of New Zealand, is the sound of the tui warbling in surrounding shrubs.

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