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Tui - Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae | by Steve Attwood
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Tui - Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae

Singing in the rain - a sofr misty rain blurs this photo but adds a mystic quality to it.

An endemic passerine bird of New Zealand. It is one of the largest members of the diverse honeyeater family. The name Tui is from the Maori language name tūī and is the species' formal common name. The plural is simply 'Tui', following Māori usage. The English name, Parson Bird, has fallen into disuse but came about because at first glance the Tui appears completely black except for a small tuft of white feathers at its neck and a small white wing patch, causing it to resemble a parson in religious attire.

On closer inspection it can be seen that Tui have faded browner patches on the back and flanks, a multicoloured iridescent sheen that varies with the angle from which the light strikes them, and a dusting of small, white-shafted feathers on the back and sides of the neck that produce a lacy collar.

Tui are considered to be very intelligent, much like parrots. They also resemble parrots in their ability to clearly imitate human speech, and are known for their noisy, unusual call, different for each individual, that combine bellbird-like notes with clicks, cackles, timber-like creaks and groans, and wheezing sounds—the unusual possession of two voiceboxes enable Tui to perform such a myriad of vocalisations.Some of the huge range of Tui sounds are beyond the human register. Watching a Tui sing, one can observe gaps in the sound when the beak is agape and throat tufts throbbing. Tui will also Tui sing at night, especially around the full moon period. The yellow deposits on the crest of this Tūī are grains of pollen rubbed off from the flowers on which it has been feeding.Nectar is the normal diet but fruit and insects are frequently eaten, and pollen and seeds more occasionally. Particularly popular is the New Zealand flax, whose nectar sometimes ferments, resulting in the Tui flying in a fashion that suggests that they might be drunk. Tui are the main pollinators of flax, kowhai, kaka beak and some other plants. Note that the flowers of the three plants mentioned are similar in shape to the Tui's beak—a vivid example of mutualistic coevolution.

Male Tui can be extremely aggressive, chasing all other birds (large and small) from their territory with loud flapping and sounds akin to rude human speech. This is especially true of other Tui when possession of a favoured feeding tree is impinged. Birds will often erect their body feathers in order to appear larger in an attempt to intimidate a rival. They have even been known to mob harriers and magpies. The powered flight of Tui is quite loud as they have developed short wide wings, giving excellent manoeuverability in the dense forest they prefer, but requiring rapid flapping. They can be seen to perform a mating display of rising at speed in a vertical climb in clear air, before stalling and dropping into a powered dive, then repeating. Much of this behaviour is more notable during the breeding season of early spring—September and October. Females alone build nests of twigs, grasses and mosses.

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Taken on March 24, 2012