Saturday, 6 January 2018

Tūī Takeover - tūī chicks growing up in the garden

I always enjoy spending the quiet of the Christmas - New Year break in Pukerua Bay. People leave the cities and suburbs for holiday spots, leaving us to enjoy a laid back week or so in our little suburban village. The bonus this year has been settled warm weather so I'm spending more time relaxing in our wild garden. On Christmas Eve while pottering around in the garden, I was startled by loud, insistent cheeping. Looking for the source, I found myself face to face with a tūī fledgling.
Tūī fledgling
The fledgling hopped around from plant to plant, making an occasional fluttering attempt, but as its wings weren't really developed it fluttered lower and lower until it was on the ground. I thought it wouldn't live through the night -  last year we lost two tūī chicks to neighbours' cats - but Cheepy (as she/he soon came to be called) was still there the next day and the next.


As the week went by, we realised that the dense tree tops were hiding more than one fledgling. And around New Year's Eve we saw a parent tūī feeding three different fledglings. The largest fledgling had no fluffy down at all but was still without the white chin feathers, which would mark it as an adult. It surprised me that the chicks were such different size, I wondered whether they could be from different broods.
The fledgling (left) about to be fed by its parent (right)
at least a week after it was first seen
Adult tūī are honeyeaters - this time of year they like to feed on nectar from the pōhutukawa trees and harakeke (NZ flax) plants, but the chicks were being served up insects. Once I caught sight of a green stick insect in the parent's beak, but mostly it was too hard to tell what the insects were. The pōhutukawa trees provide a bonus food source, not just the nectar but also the insects drawn to the flowers. The adult seemed to be using its wings to stir up insects in the tree.

Loud wing beats and low flying tūī were now a garden hazard. The tūī were aggressively protecting not just their chicks but also their food sources. The blackbirds were pushed to the garden's margins and any other visiting tūī chased away. The tūī seemed to ignore the tiny, squeaky pīwakawaka that turned up most days, but maybe the pīwakawaka simply knew to keep a safe distance away.

Our tūī pair also 'own' the flax bushes and pōhutukawa at the front of our property and spend a good deal of time flying between them and the back garden.  The male has got confused by his reflection in a window and has been challenging the reflection tūī. He even pecked at the window several times.
Eyeing his reflection
Here he is challenging his reflection in this video taken from inside the window.


This isn't the first time we've found tūī fledglings in the garden. Four years ago, I rescued a tūī nest (along with chicks) which had fallen down. You can read about that here.  Since then we've seen tūī nests every year and occasionally noticed juveniles that have survived past the fledgling stage. We've been trapping for rats for several years now, increasing the likelihood of the chicks' survival, but domestic cats remain a dilemma.

A Note about Tūī Beaks
A fuzzy photo of those fuzzy chicks from four years ago
It's interesting to look at the chicks' beaks, they need a large gape (the name given to the size of a bird's mouth) in order for the parents to feed them easily. The yellow Donald Duck-like beaks provide that large gape. As they grow the beak gradually chances shape until it's a curved nectar-eater beak. The curved beak helps the tūī insert its tongue deep into native flowers such as harakeke, kōwhai and pōhutukawa. Often the orange pollen from harakeke ends up on the bird's head, so it distributes pollen helping to pollinate the flowers.
A tūī stars on the front cover of my book "Whose Beak is This?"
Related Blogposts
Tūī Chicks in the Garden
Blackbird or Tūī - Which Bird is it?
What Bird is That - identifying native birds

More Information on Tūī
NZ Birds Online - http://www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/tui