Birds of the Week: The Tui

Honeyeater and pollinator

By Cushla McGaughey

Tui like the nectar of the kowhai

Tui belong to New Zealand’s unique family of honeyeaters.

They will travel long distances in search of nectar, congregating in spring on flowering plants and trees.

In summer and autumn they feed on berries and other small fruits.

Being highly mobile, they play an important part in the ecology of the forest by pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds.

Wonderful song birds

Tui also belong to the songbird order. Songbirds can produce more complex songs than other birds because they have nine sets of muscles for controlling their voice box, instead of just two sets.

In addition, tui have two voice boxes and so can produce an even greater range of sounds.  Because this requires considerable physical strength, tui are very actively involved in their songs.

They move their bodies energetically, raising and dipping their heads as they sing.

Doesn’t mind being imitated!

Songs vary from bell-like notes to whistles, coughs, wheezes and splutters.

Tui are also adept at mimicking other bird calls and sounds such as telephones, car alarms and the human voice.

The tui is the first songbird to start up at dawn and the last to fall silent at dusk, sometimes singing on moonlit nights as well. That explains how a tui’s song may even include the call of a morepork.

( Reminder: the “Flight of the Pollen” board game will be launched at Mahara Gallery on Saturday 2 September at 11.00. Cushla has done the illustrating.)