Tūī are common throughout New Zealand in forests, towns and on off-shore islands. They are found in native forests, bush reserves and bush remnants.
They are adaptable birds, and can also be found in suburban areas, particularly in winter if there is a flowering gum about.
These attractive birds can often be heard singing their beautiful melodies long before they are spotted.
If you are fortunate to glimpse one you will recognise them by their distinctive white tuft under their throat. This tuft contrasts dramatically with the metallic blue-green sheen to their underlying black colour.
Tūī are unique (endemic) to New Zealand and belong to the honeyeater family, which means they feed mainly on nectar from flowers of native plants such as kōwhai, puriri, rewarewa, kahikatea, pohutukawa, rātā and flax. Occasionally they will eat insects too.
They are important pollinators of many native trees and will fly large distances, especially during winter for their favourite foods.
Tūī will live where there is a balance of ground cover, shrubs and trees. They are quite aggressive, and will chase other tūī and other species (such as bellbird, silvereye and kereru) away from good food sources.
Tūī are attractive birds that can often be heard singing long before they are spotted
Tūī are important pollinators of many native trees and will fly large distances, especially during winter for their favourite foods
Bringing back the birdsong
A good sign of a successful restoration programme, in areas of New Zealand, is the sound of the tūī warbling in surrounding shrubs.
These clever birds are often confusing to the human ear as they mimic sounds such as the calls of the bellbird. They combine bell-like notes with harsh clicks, barks, cackles and wheezes.
Courting takes place between September and October when they sing high up in the trees in the early morning and late afternoon.
Display dives, where the bird will fly up in a sweeping arch and then dive at speed almost vertically, are also associated with breeding.
Only females build nests, which are constructed from twigs, fine grasses and moss.
Where can tūī be found
The tūī can be found throughout the three main islands of New Zealand. The Chatham Islands have their own subspecies of tūī that differs from the mainland variety mostly in being larger.
Tūī at feeding trough, Little Barrier Island
Tūī at nest with chicks
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Protective of their living space, tūī have been known to defend themselves against magpies and even 'mob' harriers. The tūī has suffered in the past with the introduction of predators such as possums, feral cats, rats, stoats, and ferrets, and the destruction of habitat.
The return of tūī to an area is often a sign of a successful restoration programme.
Effective predator control in various regions around New Zealand has resulted in a dramatic increase in tūī numbers. For example, it's reported that in Wellington there has been an eight-fold increase in tūī numbers since the council began pest control in parks and reserves across the wider city region.
You can help
You can plant a variety of native trees and shrubs to provide a year-round food supply for tūī. Plants need to be carefully selected so there are flowers and fruit at different times.
Tūī can be attracted to feed at troughs full of sugar-water.
Help protect New Zealand's native birds
- Volunteer with DOC or other groups to control predators and restore bird habitats.
- Don’t throw rubbish into water ways or storm drains.
- Set traps for stoats or rats on your property. Get more information from your local DOC office.
- Put a bell on your cat's collar, feed it well, and keep it indoors at night.
- Plant a range of native plants that provide food year-round to encourage birds into your garden.
When visiting parks and beaches
- Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep your dog under control.
- Prevent the spread of pests. Check your gear for mice and rats when visiting pest-free islands.
- Use available access ways to get to the beach. Stay out of fenced-off areas. Leave nesting shore birds alone.
- Get your dog trained in avian awareness, and help save forest birds like kiwi and weka.
- Follow the water care code. Keep water craft speed to 5 knots within 200 metres of the shore.