Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

New Zealand: Tūī

with 77 comments

Tui Bird on Dead Tree 4108

One of New Zealand’s best-known native birds is the tūī, Prosthermadera novaeseelandiae. I photographed this one on February 8th on the island of Tiritiri Matangi, which has been turned into a wildlife sanctuary and nature preserve.

For more information about the tūī you can check out New Zealand Birds and the similarly named but independent site New Zealand Birds Online.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 18, 2015 at 5:20 AM

77 Responses

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  1. My daughter’s middle name is Tui, named after this gorgeous bird 🙂


    April 18, 2015 at 5:49 AM

    • That’s a great name. Since you’re in Australia now, I wonder how many people who see her middle name know that it’s this bird.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 18, 2015 at 7:10 AM

      • When she was young she didn’t like her middle name because the kids at school teased her. When she reached high school she loved it because it was so different 🙂


        April 19, 2015 at 1:32 AM

    • See the comment down below by Sherri of Palm Springs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 18, 2015 at 10:21 PM

  2. Wow!! This is beautiful bird. Thanks.

    • You’re welcome, Isabel. I never expected to be able to get this close, but that closeness let me record the bird’s features in detail—though with difficulty, because it and others of its kind kept chasing each other around and wouldn’t hold still for more than a few seconds at a time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 18, 2015 at 7:15 AM

  3. I like the chin tufts and the blue color. How big is the Tui?

    Jim in IA

    April 18, 2015 at 6:41 AM

    • The two sources I looked at both say 30cm for the male. The white chin tufts on a dark head seem to be the inspiration for a vernacular name in English: the parson bird.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 18, 2015 at 7:20 AM

  4. What a beautiful capture of the bird Steve! Love the details. 🙂


    April 18, 2015 at 8:11 AM

    • I was surprised to end up with more good bird photographs in New Zealand than I do at home in Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 18, 2015 at 8:22 AM

      • They are beautiful birds. I have captured a few here and there… not as beautiful as your shots. 🙂


        April 18, 2015 at 8:52 AM

        • Wildflowers are a lot easier than birds because they don’t fly away when you try to get close.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 18, 2015 at 8:58 AM

          • Yep! Most of the time,when birds are ready, my camera is not… 🙂


            April 18, 2015 at 9:00 AM

            • When a bird is far enough away or in a place where it feels safe, I’ve sometimes been able to put a telephoto lens on my camera without scaring the bird off. Whether I’ve then been able to get closer and take good pictures is another story: sometimes yes, often no.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 18, 2015 at 9:15 AM

  5. Superb. Air New Zealand should consider making you their photographer-ambassador in Texas! (In return for free flights, of course. 🙂 )


    April 18, 2015 at 8:26 AM

  6. This reminds me a lot of a grackle that I photographed yesterday, but this one definitely trumps the grackles with its white tufts!

    • And if your grackles are similar to the ones in Texas, the tūī trumps them in color as well. If you got a good photo of your grackle, or if you plan to paint it, we expect to see it eventually in a post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 18, 2015 at 8:49 AM

      • Yes, good photos! It landed on a limb about six feet from me, and the camera was within subtle reach. After the bird flew away, I pondered the ‘what if’s’ and decided that a female grackle probably boasted a rainbow of colors once upon a time long ago, but it was too vain and wanted more.. she kept adding colors until they all mixed and became mud… the fable needs tweaking, but it gave this highly-creative mind a fun little run!

        • A little fun run down there in the sun. Do tweak your tale, which has the makings of a children’s book, illustrated by yours truly (i.e. you).

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 18, 2015 at 9:01 AM

          • si, one of the blessings of a creative mind/eye is also its curse.. which ball does one drop in order to pursue other creative whims? little interactions trigger little ideas that play out in a few seconds and it’s sometimes fun to allow them time in a spotlight. thanks for your nudge on that one – it would be a fun and fast story. i’m working on a more complex one and much more serious regarding our planet and what we’re doing to it. target audience is the children, who are inheriting a big mess we’ve made of things.

            the grackle is buried way down this queue of images: https://playamart.wordpress.com/2015/04/18/a-canary-shouts-the-sky-is-falling

            • Let’s hope you put together your fun and fast story as well as the more serious one.

              I saw the grackle in your queue and by Texas standards it looks quite grackleish.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 18, 2015 at 3:37 PM

              • ha.. you gave me a much-needed laugh, as i just heard of someone’s death here in the area. thanks so much, you helped lighten the moment. z

            • And yes, I understand about having too many irons in the fire. For decades I’ve had a bunch of “main” interests and therefore have spent less time on each than if I were more narrowly focused.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 18, 2015 at 3:42 PM

  7. Well, ain’t he a beaut! Love his little ‘beard.’ Did you add many new birds to your list of regulars while you were away? I’m rather fond of my ‘little collection’ and actively look to add another to my shelf. Great shot, Steve. Got his personality!


    April 18, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    • In Austin I’m not a purposeful bird photographer but I always carry a 280mm (equivalent) lens in my camera bag just in case, and a bird does come my way every so often when I’m out photographing plants. The same was true during my four weeks in New Zealand, but I ended up with more birds than I thought I would, and more than in that same amount of time in Austin. With today’s picture I’ve showed five and I think there are at least two more to come.

      If you go to


      and keep scrolling, you’ll see the five NZ birds and then the ones from Texas over the past four years.

      If I headed to some of the wildlife refuges closer to you near the coast I could probably up my Texas BQ (bird quotient).

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 18, 2015 at 10:50 AM

  8. Oh, you lucky thing! I only managed a very poor shot from a distance of one of these birds. I saw plenty of blue flashing past, but none that settled near me. I love the pose! This is such a great photo Steve.


    April 18, 2015 at 2:29 PM

    • I appreciate your enthusiasm about the photo, Jude. I was shooting at 1/500 sec. to try to stop the action while still having reasonable depth of field to keep important parts in focus. I managed to get some other good pictures of tūīs during the 15-minute session, but this was the only one where I caught a bird with its body in a downward attitude, and that’s why I chose to show it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 18, 2015 at 3:55 PM

  9. Nice capture!!!

    Evgeny Kotelevsky

    April 18, 2015 at 2:50 PM

  10. A great photo. I love the detailing of the white feathers – that is why it is called the Parson bird. They look like a white tie or colour under the beak.

    Raewyn's Photos

    April 18, 2015 at 3:16 PM

    • Thanks for your clarification about the detailing of the white feathers and the alternate name it led to, which I never heard anyone use while I was in NZ but which I found in one of my online sources. I can certainly see the white tie.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 18, 2015 at 3:59 PM

      • No, the moniker comes from the early settlers to New Zealand. There has been a shift away from that name back to the Tui.

        Raewyn's Photos

        April 18, 2015 at 4:00 PM

  11. Nice. Reminds me a bit of our common grackle.

    Steve Gingold

    April 18, 2015 at 7:39 PM

    • Lisa (Playamart) in Ecuador said something similar. I checked online and found that in spite of that resemblance grackles are in a different biological family from the tūī.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 18, 2015 at 10:04 PM

  12. What an interesting looking bird! It sort of looks mismatched or unfinished. Perhaps it is just me but I don’t expect a head like that to be on the body of that bird. And those tufts are rather comical even though the expression in the eyes is not necessarily friendly. I love the blue-green sheen. It’s certainly a great photo. It kind of reminds me of a teacher I once had! 🙂


    April 18, 2015 at 7:59 PM

    • I hope I don’t remind any of my former students of a bird, no matter how colorful.

      What you say about mismatched parts reminds me of the reaction that scientists in Europe had when settlers in Australia sent back the first preserved platypus specimens; the scientists thought the settlers were playing a prank on them by sewing together parts of different animals.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 18, 2015 at 10:13 PM

      • Actually, Steve, there is an amusing tale of how some Australians managed to fool a visiting naturalist into believing a meal they served him was a new fish species. They had made the creature out of lungfish, eel, mullet and platypus. The creature was described and actually given a name: Ompax spatuloides. It was on the official list of Australian species for more than 30 years! Rural Australians have a bit of a reputation for trying to “take the Mickey” out of visitors. Once a grazier I knew had a bowl of shiny, fresh sheep poo pellets and offered them as “smart pills” at the dinner table to young workers just starting. They made you smarter because after eating them you wouldn’t do it again. I was always very wary of practical jokes when I lived out there! 🙂


        April 18, 2015 at 10:43 PM

        • What tales: from the things you’ve said, I’d be very wary too if I ever spent time out there.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 18, 2015 at 10:49 PM

  13. Wow Marlyn I really thought this was great…your daughter has a lovely name..love it

    Sherri Of Palm Springs

    April 18, 2015 at 10:01 PM

  14. The colors are beautiful, and so is the variety of feathers and their arrangement It’s neat that you captured one of the white shoulder patches, which one of the linked articles says usually is hidden, except in flight. That same article says that the bird usually flies with its head higher than its tail. Here, you have it in a very non-flight pose.

    I enjoyed reading about this similarity to our mockingbird, too: “Tui have a display flight, in which they fly upwards above the canopy, and then make a noisy, near-vertical, dive back into the canopy.”

    With all of the singing and chittering and rasping, sunrise and sunset must be terrifically musical there.


    April 19, 2015 at 6:11 PM

    • While the tūī may fly with its head higher than its tail, I have the impression that that from the stance shown here the bird was about to take off. I wish I could be back there and observe for a while to confirm that, because at the time I was too busy trying to get pictures to observe much of what was going on.

      I didn’t see any instances of the display flight you mentioned, but I did hear a tui singing in the early morning outside the house on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula where we were staying, including on the last morning in New Zealand. I wouldn’t have known what kind of bird was making that sound, but our New Zealand host identified it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 20, 2015 at 6:55 AM

  15. Oh he’s fabulous! Great detail on his feathers Steve 🙂

  16. It is a wonderful image with loads of color and nice sharp feather detail. Those tufts are very interesting as all the tufting on birds round here is on their crown!! The variety in the world of birds is marvelous!! Love this guy!


    May 12, 2015 at 5:33 PM

    • Not being generally a bird photographer, I was surprised and pleased that I managed to get more good bird pictures in New Zealand in four weeks than I probably get in Austin in a year. The tufts, as you couldn’t help noticing, are the main distinctive feature of the tūī. I hope you’ll get to see a live one someday.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 12, 2015 at 7:12 PM

  17. I know I’m way late on this again, Steve, but the thumbnail in your Top Posts caught my eye and I had to follow the link back to this. And, having done so, I have to tell you how much I like this great portrait shot and that they are among my very favorite NZ birds. I spent a wonderful day on Tiritiri Matangi too, and still highly treasure the experience.


    August 12, 2015 at 8:55 AM

    • Thanks, Gary. I’m not normally a bird photographer (no enormous telephoto lens in my arsenal), but I surprised myself in New Zealand by getting several good bird pictures, something I don’t manage nearly as often in Texas. Visiting reserves there accounted for some of my success because native birds were present in goodly numbers and I suspect at least some of the birds were more used to people than would be the case in the wild.

      I’d read about Tiritiri Matangi in preparation for my trip, but not till we settled in at Eve’s niece’s place on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula did I realize that the ferry to the island departed from a spot just a few miles from where we were staying.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 12, 2015 at 9:10 AM

  18. A spectacular shot of such a gloriously handsome bird! I may have to try to draw this one, with your permission if you’re willing, of course.


    March 21, 2016 at 11:40 AM

    • Yes, yes, go for it! British colonists called this a parson bird but New Zealanders have gone back to the native name.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 21, 2016 at 6:26 PM

  19. Hello! I’m from Dunedin NZ. You’ve captured the colours of the tui beautifully, not an easy thing to do. I’m hoping to do a WP blog post in the near future on Blue. Would you permit me to use this photo as one of 6 or 7 images that I’d present on my post with links back to this post and to your blog?


    August 10, 2017 at 1:28 PM

  20. […] The Wikipedia article about this genus notes that “Phormium tenax flowers have the same curvature as the beak of the nectar eating Tui.” You can verify that in a photograph from our 2015 trip to New Zealand. […]

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