Talking Tui
September 22, 2017 4:01 AM   Subscribe

The Tui is an endemic passerine bird of New Zealand. It is one of the largest members of the diverse honeyeater family. What many people don’t know is that the Tui has a remarkable facility for mimicry.

A rather lengthy but fascinating article from the book Forest Lore Of the Maori. It covers Māori methods of capture and training of Tui to speak, some stories of their abilities, and recalls several tribal wars that were fought over the theft of especially talented birds. I strongly recommend reading from page 308. was the tui that was favoured by the Maori when he desired to possess a talking bird, for this bird could be taught to memorize and repeat sentences or recitals containing forty or fifty words; in fact several of such in some cases. It was on account of the handsome plumage of these birds, and of the talking powers of trained birds that early visitors to these shores procured them and endeavoured to take them back to Europe, a project that generally failed...

Colonel Mundy wrote: "This bird has a high character for elocution, and is readily domesticated. His mimicry of all kinds of sounds when caged is truly surprising: bark of mastiff, yap of cur, crow of cock, pipe of canary, the deep bass voice and hollow cough of the old man, and the shrill laugh of the young girl, are all within the compass of the Tui."...

It will be seen anon that these trained birds were taught to welcome visitors, to cry them welcome after the manner Maori. Any bird that had acquired a knowledge of such cries would certainly repeat them now and again, and to this fact was probably due the statement made by some natives that these captive birds were gifted with a kind of second sight; that they could foretell the Coming of visitors. The fact that a bird had been taught the cries employed when guests arrived, and the commands to prepare a meal, to sweep the plaza, etc., seems to have been lost sight of, and so, we are told, when a bird ordered food to be cooked, or a house to be swept, etc., the people would obey, being confident that such a procedure was necessary. They would sweep the plaza, prepare a house, and proceed to cook a meal. In this I fear me that my informant was exaggerating somewhat, but assuredly he was most entertaining. An early settler stated that, early one morning, he crossed a certain river to see one Hone Pihama, and, to his surprise, found a meal cooked and ready at an unusually early hour. He was informed that a pet tui had ordered the meal to be prepared, but that no person knew who the expected visitors might be....

The following effusion is a speech that these birds were taught to repeat upon the arrival of visitors at the village:
Kiki tai pa whakatakataka horohoro ana ki tua O Waiheke. Takeho, takeho, ko te rangi toariari koe, ko te rakau huru mai, e karangatia, Haere mai! Haere mai! Haere mai. E te manuhiri tuarangi; kaore he kai o te whenua nei, kai tawhiti te kai; moi, moi, to-to, to-to ka aitu!
Ko Tu koe, ko Rongo koe, ko Ha koe, whakamatara tu ki te korero. Tahia te wananga, ko matiti kura, ko matiti aro, ko te rehi, ko te whare pa taua. E hui te rangi ora, karangatia, Haere mai! Haere mai!

Tuta Nihoniho remarked that, in his youth, he knew three tame tui that used to repeat this speech. When visitors were being received on the village plaza, these birds would perch on their master's shoulder, or on a house-top, or perchance stand on the ground, and repeat the above, and such repetition would be received with acclamation by the visitors....

We hear strange tales of the powers of some of these speech-gifted tui of former times, of how they were taught to recite formulae, charms, even tapu ones, and so were employed to recite such at ceremonial functions.
posted by Start with Dessert (12 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I remember the tui who lived in the neighbour's kowhai tree and learned the siren song of their lawnmower, helpfully serenading us with it at dawn.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 4:56 AM on September 22, 2017 [15 favorites]

Incidentally Tui is a great scrabble word, as it uses the uncomfortable ui vowel pair up nicely in a small package.

Etui ("a small ornamental case for holding needles, cosmetics, and other articles") is also good, as it allows you to hook an "E" onto that word....

posted by lalochezia at 5:03 AM on September 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I love the Woof Woof videos, but it does seem kind of sad that this tui could apparently be producing a pōwhiri, but instead has settled for "come up 'ere and have a smoke".
posted by lollusc at 5:11 AM on September 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

That was great! Thanks!
posted by james33 at 5:21 AM on September 22, 2017

The two clumps of white feathers they have on either side of their throats look like tiny mittens.
posted by clawsoon at 5:25 AM on September 22, 2017

Apparently I have a tui frequenting the yard of the house I've bought (it's next to a park) so I think I might teach it some te reo.
posted by arzakh at 5:40 AM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I remember the tui who lived in the neighbour's kowhai tree and learned the siren song of their lawnmower, helpfully serenading us with it at dawn.

To get a little tangential, I witnessed a macaw in a cage in the courtyard of the Saipan Hilton that ably mimicked the scraping of metal tables and chairs across the hotel restaurant's concrete patio.
posted by univac at 9:08 AM on September 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

That foofy white ascot made me laugh out loud. I'm sure the ladies think he's beautiful, but it's pretty silly looking.

I love me some talking boids in the morning.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:15 AM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tui visit our lemon tree every day for sugar water. The males are currently engaging in fierce sing-offs to impress the females because breeding season. If you're so inclined, my Instagram has many tui images and some video, e.g., this fine fellow.
posted by New England Cultist at 11:30 AM on September 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I remember a this at the Governor's Bay pub (Banks Peninsula) that perfectly emulated the warbling office phone. Young tui are also hilarious as they sound like they are doing their scales as they learn to sing ...

Another tangent is how kereru (native pigeon) manipulate their trailing wing feathers in flight to produce a variety of whirring sounds.
posted by unearthed at 12:42 PM on September 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

unearthed - last summer's fledgling tui in the garden sounded like drunk chickens. Hilarious.
posted by New England Cultist at 3:26 PM on September 22, 2017

Tuis are great but they're total assholes to other birds. A bird will be like chilling on a branch and the tui is like fuck yoouuuuuu gtfo bird that's not me then it flies to the highest branch and is all POOTEEWEET GRACK I'M FUCKIN AWESOME

i love them a lot
posted by Sebmojo at 7:01 AM on September 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

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