Category Archives: Science and Nature

Ever heard a Tui sing?

Tui in a flax plant

Yesterday, I heard a Tui sing—and that was just one song of her repertoire. It was a beautiful pulsing beat, the sound of a flute, one note, mesmerizing and almost hypnotic. Like us, tuis sing different tunes—joyous, plaintive, flirtatious melodies, and sometimes, they click, cackle, wheeze and grunt. I assume that’s when they’re in a bad mood (like I am now; how could my Ravens not fly to the Super Bowl?) I’m glad I don’t have two voice boxes as tuis do; I’d have a double bout of laryngitis from yelling and cheering. Oh well!

I’ve learned to recognize tuis from their greenish-blue iridescent feathers and the white tufts on their throats, which turn into white shoulder pads when they fly. It’s beautiful to watch a flock in flight. Or even just a solitary little one flitting and flirting about in my sister and brother-in-law’s garden. Next year, there will be many more because the young kowhai (pronounced kofai) tree they’ve planted will burst into bloom—long, yellow, pendulous blossoms, so commonly seen everywhere in Auckland. Tuis feed on their nectar and fruit.

What they love equally well, perhaps even more, is the New Zealand flax plant, whose nectar ferments, causing them to totter a bit, and fly somewhat ungracefully. But hey, they don’t drive, so why begrudge them a little good cheer? Or a night cap?

Here are some pictures taken in Rotorua, about a three hour drive from Auckland, where I presently live.

Kowhai tree not yet in bloom
Tui drinking nectar from flax plant