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Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae -Waikawa, Marlborough, New Zealand-8 (2).jpg
Tūī on a flax flower stalk, with pollen on its head
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Meliphagidae
Genus: Prosthemadera
G.R. Gray, 1840
P. novaeseelandiae
Binomial name
Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae
(Gmelin, 1788)

The tūī (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) is a boisterous medium-sized bird native to New Zealand. It is blue, green, and bronze colored with a distinctive white throat tuft. It is an endemic passerine bird of New Zealand, and the only species in the genus Prosthemadera. It is one of the largest species in the diverse Australasian honeyeater family Meliphagidae, and one of two living species of that family found in New Zealand, the other being the New Zealand bellbird (Anthornis melanura). The tūī has a wide distribution in the archipelago, ranging from the subtropical Kermadec Islands to the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands, as well as the main islands.


The bird's name comes from the Māori language. The plural is tūī in modern New Zealand English, or ngā tūī in Māori usage;[2] some speakers still use the '-s' suffix to produce the Anglicised form tūīs to indicate plurality, but this practice is becoming less common.[3] For many years the prevailing spelling was tui without the macrons that indicate long vowels, but spelling Māori loanwords with macrons is now common in New Zealand English.[4][5] The International Ornithologists' Union (IOC), which has a policy of not using accents,[6] lists Tui as the bird's English name.[7] Early European colonists called it the parson bird[8] or mockingbird[9] but these names are no longer used.[10]

The closest living relative to tūī is the New Zealand bellbird; genetic analysis indicates its ancestor diverged from a lineage that gave rise to the New Zealand and Chatham bellbirds around 5 million years ago.[11] The cladogram below shows this relationship:

Plain honeyeater (Pycnopygius ixoides)

Marbled honeyeater (Pycnopygius cinereus)

Tūī (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)

New Zealand bellbird (Anthornis melanura)

Chatham bellbird (Anthornis melanocephala)


The tūī is a large honeyeater, 27 to 32 cm (11–13 in) in length. The Chatham Islands subspecies is larger on average than the nominate subspecies, and heavier. Males tend to be heavier than females. Nominate males weigh between 65–150 g (2.3–5.3 oz), and females 58–105 g (2.0–3.7 oz). Males of the Chatham subspecies are 89–240 g (3.1–8.5 oz) and females 89–170 g (3.1–6.0 oz).[12]

At first glance the bird 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 clerical attire. On closer inspection (see image) it can be seen that tūī have brown feathers 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.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Tūī are native to New Zealand, and are found throughout the country, particularly the North Island, the west and south coasts of the South Island, Stewart Island/Rakiura and the Chatham Islands, where an endangered sub-species particular to these islands exists. Other populations live on Raoul Island in the Kermadecs,[13] and in the Auckland Islands (where, with the New Zealand bellbird, it is the most southerly species of honeyeater).[14] Traditionally, Māori ate tūī that had been preserved in calabashes or gourds. Populations have declined considerably since European settlement, mainly as a result of widespread habitat destruction and predation by mammalian invasive species.

Nonetheless, the species is considered secure and has made recoveries in some areas, particularly after removal of livestock has allowed vegetation to recover. Predation by introduced species remains a threat, particularly brushtail possums (which eat eggs and chicks), cats, stoats, the common myna (which competes with tūī for food and sometimes takes eggs), blackbirds, and rats.[15]

Tūī prefer broadleaf forests at low altitudes, although have been recorded up to 1500 metres.[15] They will tolerate quite small remnant patches, regrowth, exotic plantations and well-vegetated suburbs. They are one of the most common birds found in urban Wellington. Tūī are usually seen singly, in pairs, or in small family groups, but will congregate in large numbers at suitable food sources, often in company with silvereyes, bellbirds, or kererū (New Zealand pigeon) in any combination. Generally, when interspecific competition for the same food resources among New Zealand's two species of honeyeater occurs, there is a hierarchy with the tūī at the top and bellbirds subordinate. The latter are thus frequently chased off by tūī at a food source such as a flowering flax plant.[15]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

1888 illustration of a tūī nest

Male tūī 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 tūī 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.[16]

The powered flight of tūī is quite loud as they have developed short wide wings, giving excellent maneuverability 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.[16] 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.[16]


Tūī feeding on kōwhai flower

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 tūī flying in a fashion that suggests that they might be drunk. They are the main pollinators of flax, kōwhai, kaka beak and some other plants. Note that the flowers of the three plants mentioned are similar in shape to the tūī's beak—a vivid example of mutualistic coevolution.[17]

Songs and calls[edit]

Tūī are known for their noisy, unusual, sometimes soulful calls, different for each individual, that combine bellbird-like notes with clicks, cackles, timber-like creaks and groans, and wheezing sounds.[18]

Tūī have a complex variety of songs and calls, much like parrots.[19] They also resemble parrots in their ability to clearly imitate human speech,[20] and were trained by Māori to replicate complex speech.[21] They also re-create sounds like glass shattering, car alarms, classical music and advertising jingles.[18]

All birds have a sound producing organ called a syrinx, which is typically controlled with two sets of muscles. Songbirds or passerines like tūī have nine pairs of muscles giving them the ability to produce much more complex vocalisations, and they can be seen to be very physically involved with their songs. Their dual voice box allow tūī to make two sounds at the same time.[18] Tūī song also exhibits geographical, microgeographic, seasonal, sex and individual variation.[22][23][24][25][26]

Some of the wide range of tūī sounds are beyond the human register. Watching a tūī sing, one can observe gaps in audible sound when the beak is agape and throat tufts throbbing. Hill (2011) describes these apparent gaps in the song, but notes that the audio recording equipment used in the research was not capable of detecting ultrasound above a frequency of 22.1 kHz.[22] Tūī will also sing at night, especially around the full moon period.[27]



  1. ^ BirdLife International (2017). "Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2017: e.T22704472A118658026. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T22704472A118658026.en. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Understanding the Māori Dictionary Entries (Māori Dictionary)". Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  3. ^ Hay; et al. (2008). New Zealand English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 74.
  4. ^ Crewdson, Patrick (10 September 2017). "Why Stuff is introducing macrons for te reo Māori words". Stuff. Retrieved 17 August 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ Nicholls, Jenny (23 April 2021). "These grumpy old pūkeko need to get off the grass". Stuff. Retrieved 17 August 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ "Patronyms and Accents – IOC World Bird List". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  7. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2021). "Honeyeaters". World Bird List Version 11.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  8. ^ Walter Lawry Buller (1888). A History of the Birds of New Zealand. p. 95.
  9. ^ "The Story of New Zealand, Past and Present, Savage and Civilised". Oxford University. 1859. p. 33. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  10. ^ Jennifer Hay; Margaret McLagan; Elizabeth Gordon (2008). New Zealand English. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 9780748625307.
  11. ^ Marki, Petter Z.; Jønsson, Knud A.; Irestedt, Martin; Nguyen, Jacqueline M.T.; Rahbek, Carsten; Fjeldså, Jon (2017). "Supermatrix phylogeny and biogeography of the Australasian Meliphagides radiation (Aves: Passeriformes)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 107: 516–29. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2016.12.021. hdl:10852/65203. PMID 28017855.
  12. ^ Higgins, P.; Christidis, L.; Ford, H. (2017). del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Sargatal, Jordi; Christie, David A.; de Juana, Eduardo (eds.). "Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  13. ^ C. R. Veitch, C. M. Miskelly, G. A. Harper, G. A. Taylor, and A. J. D. Tennyson (2004) "Birds of the Kermadec Islands, South-west Pacific" Notornis 51(2): 61–90
  14. ^ Department of Conservation (1999) New Zealand's Subantarctic Islands. Reed Books: Auckland ISBN 0-7900-0719-3
  15. ^ a b c Higgins, P., L. Christidis, and H. Ford (2020). "Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), version 1.0." In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.tui1.01
  16. ^ a b c "Tui Facts – New Zealand native land birds (Department of Conservation)". Retrieved 21 September 2007.
  17. ^ Kelly, Dave; et al. (2010). "Mutualisms with the wreckage of an avifauna: the status of bird pollination and fruit-dispersal in New Zealand" (PDF). New Zealand Journal of Ecology. 34 (1): 66–85. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 December 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
  18. ^ a b c "New Zealand Geographic - Tui". New Zealand Geographic. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  19. ^ Tui one of the world's most intelligent birds Archived 2014-02-01 at the Wayback Machine, 3 News. accessed 2012-10-16.
  20. ^ Videos of Woof Woof the talking tūī, Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre. Accessed 2010-09-14.
  21. ^ The tūī (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. accessed 2012-04-11.
  22. ^ a b Hill, Samuel David (2011). The vocalisation of tui (Prosthemadera Novaeseelandiae) (PDF) (MSc). Massey University. Retrieved 30 August 2021.
  23. ^ Hill, S. D., Ji, W., Parker, K. A., Amiot, C., Wells, S. J (2013) "A comparison of vocalisations between mainland tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae) and Chatham Island tui (P. n. chathamensis)" New Zealand Journal of Ecology 37(2): 214-223 [1]
  24. ^ Hill, S. D., Ji, W. (2013) "Microgeographic variation in song phrases of tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)" Notornis and Southern Bird: Ornithology of the Southern Pacific 60(3): 262-264 [2]
  25. ^ Hill, S. D., Amiot, C., Ludbrook, M. R., Ji, W (2015) "Seasonal variation in the song structure of tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)" New Zealand Journal of Ecology 39(1): 110-115 [3]
  26. ^ Hill, S. D., Pawley, M. D. M., Ji, W (2017) "Local habitat complexity correlates with song complexity in a vocally elaborate honeyeater" Austral Ecology 41[4]
  27. ^ Paul, R. St & H. R. McKenzie (1975) "A bushman's seventeen years of noting birds – Introduction and part A (Bellbird and Tui)" Notornis 22(2): 122–130 [5]

External links[edit]