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 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xJNa8VIX6o) to a short YouTube video where you can hear an example of one in full song.