If there is a tui nearby, you will probably hear it before you see it. They are one of the first birds to start singing in the morning. They make all kinds of sounds and even copy the noises they hear. They can cough, chuckle, grunt and even sound like a phone ringing. Did you know that birds from different parts of the sing differently?
Tui live almost everywhere in NZ except in parts of Canterbury where it has lost its habitat. Local people are trying to improve the habitate to reintroduced them into this area.
The birds look black but their feathers have a dark blue-green shimmer. They have a white lacy collar pattern of feathers about their necks and a bib of white curly tufts. This is why the first European settlers called them parson birds. Their backs are a reddish brown.
They swoop and dive through the air like daring stunt pilots thrilling the crowds with their manouvers. In spring you may see two birds chasing each other, speeding through the branches of trees and shrubs without ever crashing.
Tui, and its close relative the bellbird, belong to the honeyeater group of birds and their beaks are curved and they have long tongues, which have a brush like tip designed specially to drink the nectar of flowers. At the same time they pollinate the native trees and plants. Their foreheads can become covered in yellow or orange pollen which they pass from one flower to the next. Some of their favourite native trees are pōhutukawa, puriri, kōwhai, rewarewa, cabbage tree (tī kōuka), kahikatea, rātā and flax. Sometimes they also eat insects and fruit.
They can live for more than 12 years and mainland tui are not considered endangered. The Chatham Island tūī is a sub species and in the 1990’s there were only 260 of these tui remaining. Local people and the Taiko Trust worked to provide a pest free habitat and save these unique birds from extinction.