Bird of the Week: Tui

A tui misnomer

By Cushla McGaughey

The parson bird?

Early settlers called tui the Parson Bird, because of the distinctive white feathers around the neck and at the throat.

But the male tui in particular has a very assertive personality and the bill curved to probe for deep-set kowhai nectar also makes a most effective weapon.

He postures with feathers fluffed to twice his size, trying to challenge another male – or trying to impress a slender female.

She’s heard it all before and knows where this is headed. It’s her job alone to build the bulky nest and incubate the eggs. He meanwhile sings from a nearby tree or engages in aerial displays. To be fair, he’s on the watch for intruders, every so often bringing her food. After the chicks hatch, he does eventually join her in feeding them as well.

Laying claim to nectar sources

It’s no surprise that the tui is the dominant honeyeater species and lays first claim to nectar sources. They have also adapted more readily to urban living than the smaller korimako, coming for sugar water and a vigorous splash in the bird bath.

Hereabouts the male bellbird is a regular visitor too. Sometimes he announces his arrival with an incredibly powerful burst of song.

Sometimes he waits and watches from a high perch, repeating a single, plaintive note. But when the gardener happens by, the wary tui at once retreats.

Little korimako then darts down to feed, undisturbed by the human presence.