Birdsong and feathered friends

When we arrived in New Zealand I thought all of the wildlife would be different, so I was somewhat surprised to be greeted by the sight of blackbirds and sparrows in the garden. Of course I now realise that the early European settlers brought many bird species with them, keen to be surrounded by some familiar feathered friends in their strange new world.

However, it didn't take long to discover that these introduced domestic birds share their habitat with their native cousins. The tui (Maori name: tūī  - pronounced "too-ee") are regular visitors to our patch, and their distinctive call reminds you that you are a long way from home. 

At first glance, the tui looks black with a white ruff at the throat, but catch it in the right light, and its coat is irridescent with dark green, blue and purple hues. Apparently they have a double voice box which enables them to create a range of sounds, and they mimic the call of other birds as well as throwing in their own chattering.

I recorded this example on one of our first walks from home with the girls. It doesn't really do justice to the concerto of song we enjoyed, but it does give you an idea of how different this is from a starling (another familiar garden visitor) or a blackbird.


Less vocal, but also easy to identify, are the fantails. I've only seen them in our own small garden a couple of times, but occasionally they can be seen around the neighbourhood - I think it may depend which bushes and trees are in flower at the time. No prize for guessing why they are called fantails. 

Of the introduced birds, I am very happy to see a couple of thrush which seem to be thriving in their new home. I don't know whether it is the species, or a phase of evolution, but the markings of their speckled breasts seem to be especially pronounced.

Many of the other wonderful native and endemic birds we've seen have been at the local nature reserve - the fabulous Zealandia. I've posted pics of some of these already from the school trip I went on with Susannah, but here is a photo of the kaka (kākā). We are probably fortunate that this is not a regular visitor to our garden as it is a noisy beast.

Just for completeness perhaps I should also mention seabirds. The gulls look like the gulls of pretty much any coastline I've visited. Also by the shore we've spotted gannets, a lone kingfisher, cormorants and shag. The latter come in different forms, including the New Zealand pied shag with its white breast. There are many nesting at Zealandia. 

I perhaps come across as an avid bird watcher with this list of sightings, but I'm not really. I am just enjoying the novelty of the natural world around me. Although Wellington is a city, I am very grateful that birdsong is prominent in its soundscape. The twittering makes me smile, and as for hearing the vocal gymnastics of the tui, that smile often turns into a grin. While I may start to get used to it, I don't expect to ever tire of hearing it.