The Fascinating Tui Bird
Quick Description of the Tui
TUI (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)
Male 32cm, female 29cm.
Range: Throughout the main islands and many off-shore and outlying islands.
Habitat: Native forest, particularly podocarp and broadleaf, and exotic vegetation next to a native forest.
Food: Fruit, fruit-nectar and insects.
Voice: Song resembles the bellbird’s but is stronger and more resonant. Alarm call is a harsh, and repeated “keer-keer”.
Breeding: November-January. Three to four eggs, white or pale pink with reddish brown specks or blotches.
General: A subspecies on the Chatham Islands is slightly larger. The Tui is easy to attract into your garden, as long as you have enough surrounding trees.
Detailed Description of the Tui
The Tui is an endemic passerine of New Zealand, and is one of the largest members of the diverse honeyeater family. The name Tui comes from the Maori language. The English name, Parson Bird, has fallen into disuse but came about because at first glance the Tui appears completely black except for a small tuft of white feathers at its neck and a small white wing patch, causing the Tui to look like a Parson in religious attire. At closer inspection, it can be seen that the Tui have faded brown patches on the back and flanks, a multicolored iridescent sheen that changes with the angle from which the light hits them, and a dusting of small, white-shafted feathers located on the back and sides of the neck that produces a lacy collar.
Tui are very intelligent, just like parrots. Tui and parrots also share the ability to clearly imitate human speech, and they are known for their noisy, unusual call, that varies for each individual bird, they combine bellbird-like notes with clicks, cackles, timber-like creaks and groans, and wheezing sounds - the unusual location of two voice-boxes enable the Tui to perform such an array of vocalizations. Some of the huge array of Tui sounds are beyond the human register. Watching a Tui sing, one can see gaps in the sound when the beak is agape and throat tufts throbbing. Tui also sings at night, especially during the full moon period. Nectar is the primary diet, but fruit and insects are also eaten; They eat pollen and seeds occasionally. Particularly popular is the New Zealand flax, whose nectar sometimes ferments, resultiing in the Tui flying in a way that suggests that they might be drunk. Tui are the main pollinators of flax, kowhai, kaka-beack and some other plants. The flowers of the three plants are similar in shape to the Tui's beak - a vivid example of mutualistic coevolution. Male Tui can be very aggressive, chasing all other birds (both big and small) away from their territory with loud flapping and sounds akin to rude human speech. This is especially true of other Tui when possession of a favorite feeding tree is impinged. Birds often make their body feathers errect so they appear larger in an attempt to intimidate a rival. They also have been known to mob harriers and magpies. The flight of a Tui is powerful and quite loud. They develop short wide wings, giving excellent maneuverability in the dense forest they prefer, although it requires rapid flapping. They can be seen performing a mating display of rising at speed in a vertical climb in clear air, before slowing down and dropping into a powered dive, then repeating. A lot of this behavior is more noticeable during the breeding season of early spring to September or October. Females build nests made of twigs, grass, and moss.
This Tui can talk, sing, and dance!
Tui are found through much of New Zealand, mostly in the North Island, the west and south coast of the South Island, Stewart Island/Rakiura and the Chatham sub-species particular to these islands exists. Other populations live on Raoui Island in the Kermadecs, and in the Auckland Islands - where along with the New Zealand Bellbird, it is the most southerly species of honeyeater. Populations have declined considerably since European settlement, mostly as a result of widespread habitat destruction and predation by mammalian invasive species. The species is considered secure and has made recoveries in some areas, particularly after removaol of livestock has allowed vegetation to recover. Predation by introduced species still remains a threat, mostly stoats, the common Myna - which competes with the Tui for food and eggs, also rats. Tui prefer broadleaf forests below 1500 meters, but they will tolerate quite small remnant patches, regrowth, exotic plantations and well-vegetated suburbs. They are usually seen alone, in pairs, or in small family groups, but will get together in large numbers at suitable food sources often in company with silvereyes, Bellbirds, (another New Zealand honeyeater) kereru (native New Zealand pigeon) in any combination. Generally, when inter-specific competition for the same food resources among New Zealand's three species of honeyeater occurs, there is a hierarchy with the Tui at the top, with bellbirds and stichbirds subordinate to the species above them - they are frequently chased off by Tui at a food source such as a flowering flax plant.