The Tui is one of New Zealand’s most iconic birds. Sharp, smart and vocal, he can be found in forest, open coppice country, parks and gardens. He is the largest of our honey eaters, his long, curving beak ideal for reaching into the throats of flowers of all kinds.
The Tui has 2 voice boxes – one attached to each lung – and he can produce an amazing variety of sounds in fast succession and overlapping one another. These sounds include carillion calls, sneezes, bursts of song and explosive ejaculations that are completely beyond description.
He is a mimic, and can be taught to talk, as the Maori soon discovered. His flight is fast and he flies in short, energetic bursts, punctuated by a drumming sound produced by a notch in the front of the 8th flight feather of each wing. You can certainly hear him coming!
The use of the term ‘friends’ here is euphemistic. The Tui is a dominant bird, highly protective of his nesting sites and food sources. Because at this stage I have no bird feeders here, I don’t know what the pecking order is between the Tui and the imported Indian Mynah (a rather forceful bird), but I suspect the Tui has the edge.
This is part of one of the 36 illustrations I painted for the book Taketakerau The Millennium Tree published in 2012. The whole picture shows a Maori and his young son exploring the forest on arrival in Aotearoa.
The birds shown here are completely fearless of the strange beings invading their world. But since birds soon became a major source of food for the Maori immigrants, that situation did not last for long!
The birds in the picture are – Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) in the centre and around him, anticlockwise from the top right, Fantail, piwakawaka (Rhipidura fulginosa); Grey warbler, riroriro (Gerygone igata); Tit, miromiro (Petroica macrocephala); North Island Robin, toutouwai (Petroica australis).
The tree is the Shining Broadleaf (Griselinia lucida), often found as an epiphyte on larger forest trees.
For more details about this picture, c;lick on the image – and check out the remainder of the book illustrations at Taketakerau.com .
My first thought, judging by the dark blue-green of the wings, was that this must be a young kingfisher. It also had copper around the wingtips and lower rump. Then when I turned it over, I saw the white breast barred with black and immediately realized it was a Shining Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus).
Some books identify this as of ‘sparrow size’ and I can state absolutely that the shining cuckoo is definitely bigger than a sparrow (16cm + I’d say). This bird had a long split down the front of its chest, so I don’t think it was killed by my cat (now 20 yrs of age) – more likely blown into my cottage.
Shining cuckoos migrate down to New Zealand from the Bismarck Archipelago (New Guinea) and Solomon Islands in the summer to breed, using nests of the Grey Warbler (Gerygone igata) to lay their eggs – one per nest – and they leave the tiny warblers to raise their kids. Fortunately, by the time the shining cuckoos are ready to lay, the warblers have already raised one litter, so all is not lost (isn’t nature wonderful?). But the young shining cuckoo definitely puts paid to the warblers’ second litter.
I had never seen a shining cuckoo ‘in real life’ before, and didn’t know I had them here, though I’ve always known we had grey warblers, because I heard them. I used a pair of shining cuckoos as part of the wildlife interest in one of the 36 paintings I did for the book ‘Taketakerau The Millennium Tree’, which I illustrated in 2011. Here’s the painting:
‘Fallen Giants’ – click on the image for more details.
I’ve now heard the shining cuckoo’s call on New Zealand Birds Online, and identified it as a call I’d been hearing lately. Was listening to the call outside this morning when I saw a fast flash of green wings across the grass to the trees where the sound was coming from, so I feel happy to know that the mate of the bird that lost its life (which was a female, I think) is not alone.
They are very fast fliers and spend much of their time hidden in the trees. So often one just doesn’t see these birds !