Updated: Mar 19
Tui birds are medium-sized birds. They have iridescent feather coloring, reddish-brown back, and white throat tufts. The tufts are also called "poi", in Maori meaning "ball" on a chord. Their name "ngā tūī" is in the Maori language, with "tūī" meaning "tea", and ngā tūī - "comments".
Tui birds are endemic to New Zealand. They are distributed over subtropical to sub-Antarctic regions, Kermadec Islands, and the Auckland Islands. These birds are found on the main North and South Islands as well as the Chatham Islands. On the Chatham Islands, an endangered species lives. The bird is one of the honeyeater family Meliphagidae. It is one of two living species of that family found in New Zealand, the other being the New Zealand bellbird.
Populations have seized since European settlement, as an outcome of habitat destruction. Pest invasion also played a role in the decline in its numbers. See brushtail possum - one of the most dangerous pests in NZ. Nonetheless, the widespread campaigns towards pest control have managed to secure Tui in some areas.
Tui bird of New Zealand prefers broadleaf forests as their primary habitat. There they would feed on nectar, fruit, and insects, New Zealand flax, pollen, and seeds. Oftentimes Tui birds would compete with the other species of honeyeater - bellbirds. The latter is chased off by tui when they compete for a food resource such as a flowering flax plant.
It is a wonderful fact that tui birds can produce a wide variety of sounds much like parrots. Their ability to imitate human speech additionally makes them resemble parrots. Sitting on a tree, they would produce songs, squawks, clicks, and whirrs to call and chatter. They would sing their melodies all day long. Tui mimics other birds and various sounds from the environment.
Tui prefers to walk. They have developed short wide wings, which help them maneuver in the dense forest by flapping.
Tui is a large bird, 27 to 32 cm in length. Males weigh between 65-150 g while female birds weigh 58 - 105 g. Male birds can often be seen flapping and making sounds akin to rude human speech, chasing off other birds from their territory. They will erect their body feathers to appear larger and intimidate their rival.
Tui is a national heritage animal - in Maori culture, together with the other heritage animals and plants such as Koru, the bird has a special symbolic meaning - it is often associated with life fulfillment, confidence, and spiritual harmony. They are said to be messengers of the Gods and Goddesses. They acted as a medium to communicate with the gods and goddesses in Maori beliefs.
Māori sometimes trained tūī to say traditional māori phrases. Some chiefs taught their caged birds complex speeches. To help them speak, their brush-tipped tongues are trimmed.
The first Europeans who settled in New Zealand called the bird a Parson Bird. This is because its neck has a lacy white collar of fine white feathers. This resembled a parson's clerical collar.
Tui is a wonderful bird that impresses with their colored feathers and the sounds they make. These birds play an important role in Māori culture. They are valuable species in New Zealand. Specific measures have been taken to preserve their numbers.