Raconteur of the Bush
TUI – Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae
Purehe, kokotea, koko, parson bird.
Tui guarded the door to the twelfth heaven at the beginning of time, and is considered one of the original birds. These darkly coloured, glossy birds have a remarkable capacity for mimicry, and as such were often taught to speak by Maori. This could take as long as four years, but when completed the birds were noted for their wisdom as well as their ability to sound human.
In spite of their high value and status, tui were also taken for food, especially when the first season frosts came at the end of the fruiting season and the birds slept deeply. Bird gatherers would climb high into the trees to roosting sites and grab the slumbering tuis, which were called koko when fat and ready to eat.
Today they are noted as one of the voluble of the kauri forest’s manu-birds, reputedly the first singer in both morning and night. While tui song does include some sonorous, bell-like tones, it also contains many clicks and rasps, with wheezes and low, soft whistling sounds as well.
With easily recognisable white tuft of feathers at its throat, the green/blue/bronze tui is well known to most New Zealanders, and is often found in suburban gardens as well as in the depth of the bush. They are monogamous birds, although they do not seem to mate for life, and they raise up to four young after laying in September. Incubation is as around 2 weeks, followed by a similar time in the nest with chicks being fed by both parents.
They are omnivorous, eating a variety of insects and fruit as well as nectar. As such they are an important facet of kauri forest ecology, spreading seeds and maintaining insect control.