Menagerie Monday: The Talented Tui

In the text of my post the other day (here) featuring the cheeky little Silvereyes, I mentioned that the other native bird that we love to see visiting and feeding on the blossoms of our abutilon is the tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae). It’s one of the largest species in the diverse Australasian honeyeater family Meliphagidae, and one of two living species of that family found in New Zealand (the other is the New Zealand bellbird).
Tui are boisterous, common and widespread in our forests and suburbs. They are larger than robins but smaller than crows. They look black from a distance, but in good light tui have a blue, green and bronze iridescent sheen, and distinctive white throat tufts (poi). They are often very vocal, with a delightful, complicated mix of tuneful, flute-like notes interspersed with coughs, grunts and wheezes. We see one nearly every day, performing frequent, energetic, and agile acrobatics to slip its sickle-shaped beak delicately between the abutilon petals from the side, near the base, to get at the nectar deep within the flowers without having to perch more precariously and try to access it from the flowers’ mouths.
Tui are widespread and locally abundant on the North, South and Stewart Islands, and their offshore islands; they are scarce only in drier, largely open country east of the Southern Alps in the South Island. Tui are also present on the Kermadec and Auckland Islands, and there is another, larger subspecies that is endemic to the Chatham Islands.
Tui are notoriously aggressive and will defend a flowering or fruiting tree, or a small part of a large tree, from all comers, whether it be another tui or a different bird species. They vigorously chase other birds away from their feeding territory with loud whirring wings. Tui have a display flight, in which they fly upwards above the canopy, and then make a noisy, near-vertical, dive back into the canopy. They play a very important role in the dynamics of New Zealand forests because they are one of the most common pollinators of flowering plants, and also disperse the seeds of trees with medium-sized fruits. I’ve featured them in two other posts in the past, here and here. (Click a pic to enlarge.)

And, by the way, here’s a link ( to a short YouTube video where you can hear an example of one in full song.

About krikitarts

Welcome to Krikit Arts! I'm a veterinarian; photographer; finger-style guitarist, composer, instructor, and singer/songwriter; fisherman; and fly-tyer. Please enjoy--and please respect my full rights to all photos on this Website!
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34 Responses to Menagerie Monday: The Talented Tui

  1. Love the medal on its breast 😊

  2. Excellent photos and wonderful introduction to the tui!

  3. Beautiful colouring on this bird. Great photos!

  4. Adrian Lewis says:

    Beautiful and interesting stuff, my friend, I’ve never seen any pictures of these birds before. :)

  5. On the last morning of our first NZ trip I was enchanted by the flute-like sound of a tui outside our bedroom. In Austin we have a common native Abutilon species known as Indian mallow, but no matter how much I’ve looked, I’ve never found a tui on one.

    • krikitarts says:

      They really are enchanting, and we just love to hear them warbling, croaking, and clacking to each other, especially in the upper branches of the pohutukawa tree in our daughter’s front garden next door. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than one at a time in our abutilon, and they don’t usually sing when they’re alone.

  6. Peter Klopp says:

    Amazing bird shots! The tui are truly fantastic acrobats. Especially impressive was the capture of a bird hanging upside down from a branch. Well done, my friend!

    • krikitarts says:

      Their agility reminds me of nuthatches, but they’re so much bigger and heavier that it’s amazing to me how confident and efficient they are among the tiny branches and twigs of the abutilon.

  7. Vicki says:

    Superb photos and thanks for the link to YouTube. The variety of sounds this bird makes is really quite extraordinary.
    The white neck tufts are quite unusual. Much more prominent than the red wattles (or earrings as I call them) on our Red Wattlebird.

    • krikitarts says:

      I found a dead one once and had a chance to look at the tuft feathers in detail. There were actually about two dozen, many more than I had previously thought. I looked up the red wattlebird and see why you thought of them; they are also honeyeaters and their beaks are quite similar although the wattles are actually flaps of pink skin, rather than feathers. Thanks, Vicki!

  8. The Tui is a beautiful bird as are your shots of it. When watching the video, and listening, I noticed the way the white throat tufts move as the calling happens. And the songs, that remind me of the catbird that raids our blueberries every summer, are captivating.

  9. bluebrightly says:

    Oh my, that’s one INCREDIBLE bird! Thank you! I love the images and the video. Another reason to come to NZ!!!

  10. Platypus Man says:

    We spent six weeks in NZ towards the end of 2019. Although we saw many rarer endemic birds, the Tui was our favourite: striking appearance, feisty character and intriguing call. We also developed a taste for Tui beer and have managed to get some here in the UK, to bring back happy memories of a great country!

    • krikitarts says:

      Thanks very much for your comment, David. Yes, tui are really wonderful birds, always worth as long a good look as they are willing to provide, and the scope of their vocabulary is truly astounding. I, too, am quite a fan of a good IPA, and I liked the Tui beer when I first came here, but our two daughters frowned deeply at their advertising at the time, which was quite sexist, so after diligent research, my favorite here now is Mac’s Green Beret and in the US Sierra Nevada Torpedo. Cheers!

      • Platypus Man says:

        I’m sure you conducted your research into alternative beers with utmost thoroughness 🙂. I’ll watch out for Green Beret if I ever make it out your way again!

  11. Pingback: Isolation Antidotes (34): A Brace of Beauties: Abutilon | krikitarts

  12. zannyro says:

    Living, breathing works of art!

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