There has been some debate about the noise that the increasing tui population is making in built-up areas of Wellington as the birds re-establish themselves. Apparently the dawn chorus is getting too loud for some residents.
To try and understand what the to-do is about, I spoke to an awni… er ornolo… ummm ornitholo… oh, “bird expert person” to see what he thought about the matter. I visited Professor Twitchett, Head of the Birdology Department at the University of Tawa and spent a day with him in his maimai which is located in the branches of a Norfolk Pine in the campus of the local university.
The day starts early for most tui who like to stretch their wings a bit before grabbing a quick breakfast and either heading off to work or setting about the nestwork. There’s washing to be done, crumbs to be swept up from nestfloors, shopping to be done and news to be got. I managed to note down some of the conversations that I heard.
From nests nearby, “Morning Mrs Ratatui. Have you taught that big booby of yours how to fly yet?” “No, he’s still stuck on wing alignment – a most uncoordinated little chap. Now I must dash and hang his washing out, he’ll be up wanting his breakfast soon.”
Then the news came in. “Oh yea! Oh yea! Newsflash. Boring white bread on back lawn at number seventy. From earlier bulletin, honey water at sixty-nine, seedy bread in feeder at seventy-two. Last kowhai flowers still going up at eight-eight. More on the hour.”
This caused a flutter of activity from those who hadn’t heard the earlier news about the honey water. Tui love the stuff even though it makes them a bit tipsy sometimes. After a while, things returned to a normal routine after everyone had whetted their throats, leaving the boring old white crusts for the blackbirds to pick over.
Finally the kids dragged themselves out of bed (or were kicked out) and gulped down a bit of brekkie. For the youngsters, there’s flying lessons to be taken. “Wail. But it’s such a looong way down, Mum!” “Oh piffle. Come on. Wave your wings like this and jump!”
When they do learn to fly, tui tend to be fast and vigorous fliers, and their feathers flutter distinctively as they pass nearby. Gardeners with tui lurking in the shrubbery will readily recognise the flittering noise the birds make as they pop between trees and hold drag races along the boundary. In fact I think it’s possible to recognise the host of a few tui by the nervous flinch they exhibit whenever a bird passes through their peripheral vision.
Unlike fantails who announce their presence at garden weeding time with little eek noises, tui tend to shut their beaks while flying. Having just scared the bejasus out of a distracted gardener by hooning past his shoulder, they tend to gather in a nearby (but safely distant) tree where they laugh their heads off and compare notes. “Cor, Beakie, he didn’t see you coming.” “Yeah! Did you see the cartwheel I did by his right ear? I bet he thought I was going to land on his shoulder! Shall we do another run?” “Nah, I think he’s a bit gun-shy. Wait until he’s forgotten and started weeding again and we can try a bombing-raid.”
I was thinking about this a few weeks ago when there was a distinctive fluttering of tui feathers in a tree above my head. It made me think uneasily of that Gary Larson cartoon of the birds sitting in a tree above a human with a bulls-eye painted on his head musing, ‘You are mine. All mine.’
Anyway, it was just a patient parent trying to teach a youngster how to fly and forage. He had the flying manual open at Chapter 8 (foraging) and was saying “Dumb humans tend their gardens and, when they weed, they break up the soil and disturb tasty bugs. These bugs are yummy snacks at the time of the year when flax seed and flower nectar are short….”
Meanwhile, the fat booby on the branch nearby had his mind on other things. “When I get home I’ll get that new song by those chicks from When the Tui’s Been Spayed off the ‘net. I wonder what’s for tea,” he mused. “Mum had an interesting pile of flowers and seeds on the bench when I left – perhaps a flax green curry with pohutukawa flowers…”
This angered the old man, of course, who also wanted to get home as he was hoping there’d be baked puka berry and sunflower seed pie. There was a bottle of that kowhai nectar 2004 chilling in the fridge – a good vintage that.
A bit of a dust-up then occurred, with pop trying to cuff big booby’s ears with a “Pay Attention!” and off they shot with the youngster wailing all the way back to Mum at the nest. “You’re too tough on him, dear,” she would say when they got back. “He needs more time! Now, pour us each a glass of that camellia petal water that we collected last week, and try these karaka berries that I’ve just pickled for winter snacks.”
Mind you, this is only one family’s view of things. Tui families seem to be more liberated than this, and both parents can be seen later in the season hooning about with chicks teaching them advanced aerodynamics. It’s also an opportunity to plant the seed of an idea that it might be time to move on. But not all the youngsters are keen to go.
Maybe tui mums dote too much on their offspring, doing their washing and ironing, tidying their rooms and cooking great feasts. This makes the youngsters reluctant to pack up and move into a flat and the long-suffering dads have to worry about putting an extension on the nest to accommodate next year’s brood or simply kicking them out when Mum’s not watching.
“Ooooh, look Pookie. There’s that young daughter of Mrs delaTui of The Pines. Isn’t she a stunning sight in all her finery. Now she’d make a good wife for you, dear. Let’s pop over and introduce ourselves…” (the parents wink at each other as Pookie starts preening himself and emitting raucous coughs to show how manly he is).
Later that evening, Mr and Mrs Parson are back in the nest doing the dishes while Pookie is blobbed in front of the PC surfing the ‘net and their daughter Bella is upstairs (at the top of tree) practicing her opera scales. “The season is moving along dear. Even if we manage to flog Pookie off to the delaTuis, we have Bella’s singing lessons to pay for. I think we should keep her here over winter and you should think about building a sleep-out on the branch. I may have to take on some extra work to pay for Bella’s lessons, though. Maybe I should open a preening boutique down at Tarata Mall and go back to my feathers and claws work. What do you think?”
“Good idea, love. There are some well-heeled tui who have moved into the suburb lately and they’d be likely customers. I’ll talk to Mr Bucktui about some finance tomorrow. We should be able to borrow against the nest in this rising market to finance the business.”
So, with all this domestic bliss to organise, is it any wonder that the tui have things to chatter about from pre-dawn (when the shift-workers get up) to post-dusk (when the IT slaves get back to their nests)?
But some city humans are getting brassed off with the noise and impatient with the slow learners who take ages to get past doh and ray and the perfectionists who sit on a branch trying to reach the bestest fah by practicing over and over.
Fortunately, out here in the ‘burbs we seem to have a more balanced bunch of tui who know all the latest songs and seem to sing away tunefully all day. When they’re not gossiping, of course.