Wahou, I touched a Kiwi … bird! I had a friendly encounter with a North Island Brown Kiwi during my stay in Whangarei last week (note: blog post first published in June 2012 on my old Posterous blog “Hitting The Road”) and I cannot wait to share some stories around “Sparky”, his playful Pukeko friend “Puki” as well as the talking “Little Tui”.
Everything started with the suggestion of my host Peter to visit the bird recovery centre in Whangarei on my last morning in town. Peter has been so excited about the birds living there that I got seriously interested; not only because he told me I might have the chance to pet a little Kiwi bird, but he promised me I would be able to talk to a Tui and get answers (yep, I mean “human speech”). No sooner said than done, he called his friend Robert at the centre and within seconds I got my appointment and had the chance to meet Robert and his Kiwi bird named Sparky (see photo below).
Observing and touching a Kiwi has been a great experience. The bird’s feathers are a bit rough on the surface but really soft when digging your hand through while searching for the more or less non-existant wings. For Sparky though, wings are of no importance – ears are! Caressing the bird’s tiny ear made him close his eyes to enjoy even more being pet and spoiled!
Sparky got once caught in a possum trap. He lost one leg and would therefore be unable to survive on his own. Robert and his team of volunteers offer the Kiwi a second home, helping out in case the bird doesn’t find its own food. But no worries, Sparky adopted well to his new condition. He jumps forward on one leg and he even pulled out a long earthworm in front of my eyes.
Enough about the Kiwi, let’s talk about the Tui! You want to know if “Little Tui” was truly talking, right? He was – everytime the bird lacked some attention. As soon as I figured this out, I just turned my back towards the Tui and acted as if interested in all other birds but Little Tui. It worked perfectly. The bird started by saying “Little Tui” (how many birds can say there own name?). I turned around and he continued with “Here you go” and wished me a “Merry Christmas”.
In fact, Tuis do have two voiceboxes and more muscles than other birds to control their vocal chords. This makes them sound so crazy, even when they don’t talk; and it also enables them to imitate human speech pretty well. Robert from the recovery centre told me about Woof Woof, another Tui which unfortunately died last year. He had been the first one to start talking and entertaining the visitors of the bird centre by singing advertisement jingles. In fact, Little Tui picked up the talking from Woof Woof and is slowly teaching a third Tui named Jett to join the fun.
Last but not least, I have to mention Puki (see photo above). This little character bird seems to dislike the lack of attention towards him. Everyone is coming to pet the Kiwi and to talk to the Tuis. Pukekos seem far too common to surprise someone. Far out! Puki is the complete contrary of common. He likes to play with everything that moves (except of birds bigger than him; he’ll get mad at them, trying to chase them away). He loves to open shoe laces and to pull on them (he can’t close them yet though) and to gnaw at trousers.
You can actually only stop Puki from eating you up by gently touching the back of his neck. The bird will immediately bend down and rest his head on the ground till you stop caressing. Robert’s team mates told me that Puki likes to assume everyone is around to play with him all day long; oh, and he also thinks he is the secret boss of the bird recovery centre (but ssshh, don’t tell Robert!).
The Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre is run by a small team of volunteers providing help for ill birds in order to return them to the wild. While some birds are easy to cure (like birds that have been nibbling from overripe guava and need to get sober), other birds have severe injuries and would not make it in the wild. Robert and his colleagues gave them a new home and built up strong expertise allowing the centre to even incubate Kiwi eggs. Check out their webcams during breeding season and you might see a baby Kiwi hatching before it will be released into the forest.
If you want to support the work of the recovery centre (which is not sponsored by the New Zealand Government), feel free to make a donation. They really appreciate it! (Note: this article is in no way sponsored by The Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre)