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Troublesome tui

MEDIA RELEASE 7 January 2008

Troublesome tui

While residents of Christchurch and Auckland are lying awake at night listening to the boy racers tearing up the tarseal, they might want to spare a thought for the poor Wellingtonians, who are suffering from an altogether different disturbance this summer. Troublesome tui!

Just ten years ago tui were an uncommon sight in the capital, and completely absent from many suburbs but over the past ten years numbers have exploded. While this has been welcomed with open arms by most Wellingtonians, a handful of locals find their verbal diarrhoea and early-morning wake-up calls less appealing.

Raewyn Empson, Conservation Scientist at Karori Sanctuary, has received a number of phonecalls this summer from local people complaining that tui have been waking them up at the crack of dawn.

“Usually, one of the first things people say to me when I tell them where I work is how wonderful it is to have so many native birds back in their gardens” said Empson.

“But once in a while you get someone who is fed up with being woken up at the crack of dawn or even earlier. I’ve had a few of those recently! The trouble is that tui don’t seem to need as much sleep as we do. During daylight savings, tui can carry on singing until about half past nine in the evening and start up again as early as 4am!”

According to Empson, the problem is probably as much to do with the ‘quality’ of the singing as the timing or the volume.

“At this time of year there are a lot of fledglings around. Like all youngsters, they only have a limited vocabulary to begin with, and take time to build up a full repertoire. In early summer, you will hear a lot of juvenile tui belting out the same three or four notes for hours on end. Still, there are a lot of worse noises to wake up to!”

The capital has seen by far the biggest increase in native bird species of any New Zealand city. Tui were always present, but thanks to the Regional and City Council’s vigorous pest-control programme and the establishment of the groundbreaking Karori Sanctuary numbers have rocketed. Since 1995, the Sanctuary has reintroduced 12 species of birds that were extinct in the Wellington area, including kaka, kiwi, saddleback, North Island robin and hihi. Some of these reintroduced birds such as bellbirds and kaka, are now frequent visitors to neighbouring gardens and hopefully will one day be seen as regularly as the tui.

More information:

o Tui (Prosthemadera novaseelandiae) is only found in New Zealand o It is one of the largest members of the honeyeater family (Meliphagidae), which has around 150 members across Australasia.

o Tui are primarily nectar feeders but also feed on fruit and invertebrates

o Its only close relative in New Zealand is the bellbird, which is a similar songster, often mimics confused with the tui

o Tui are incredibly vocal – their song an unlikely medley of clear, bell-like notes and cacophonous hacking. Some of the huge range of Tui sounds are beyond the human register and they are unusual in that they can sing 2 songs at the same time (a fast and slow song, or a melodious song together with staccato notes), making them hard to mimic

o They have an incredible ability to mimic and have even been trained to ‘talk’

o They are thought to be highly intelligent

o Tui can be extremely aggressive, chasing all other birds (large and small) from their favourite flowering or fruiting trees or from the vicinity of their nest site.

ENDS


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