April 20th, 2012

Box of Birds

Rambunctious. Confused. Operatic.

The spirited call of the tui with its clicks, coughs, wheezes, bells and whistles has been pinned with many an adjective. And now a scientific study has proven one of them to be true: elaborate.

The very first study into the tui’s song has revealed that it song ranks as one the bird-world’s most complex.

Massey Conservation Biology Masters student, Sam Hill, recently took a 2.5 hour sample of tui song, and discovered that it contained over 300 different ‘songs’ (a series of newly detected notes).

Tui, Adam Colley

Tui, Adam Colley

This places the tui amongst a handful of birds that can produce over 300 songs, such as the nightingale.

It’s a far cry from more skilled songsters, such as the brown thrasher (1000 songs), however Hill is confident further sampling will prove the vast breadth of the tui’s song.

The 33 year old British born birder is one of the first people to study the tui’s song, which he concedes is surprising given that it’s one of New Zealand’s most popular birds (the tui was voted Bird of the Year in 2005)

One of the reasons he believes no-one has tackled this research is because it would have been prohibitively labour intensive.

It is only in recent years that sound equipment, such as spectrograms, has caught up with the complex task of analysing bird song.

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