The language of love

ON SONG: Tui in the Auckland area are believed to have an accent that is more attractive to female mates.
ON SONG: Tui in the Auckland area are believed to have an accent that is more attractive to female mates.

New research reveals an Auckland accent could be a hit with the ladies - if you're a tui that is.

Using a microphone to record 100 tui from Tawharanui Regional Park, near Warkworth, and the Chatham Islands, Massey University masters student Sam Hill determined the species had developed regional dialects or accents.

Auckland birds were more likely to use trill calls - a high pitched sound - in their song which attracts the female mates.

As a result, a lot of trill calls are an indication of a strong population, Hill says.

"We actually found in the mainland tui it will sing more trill than on the Chatham Islands and that suggests the mainland has more genetic diversity than the islands."

He says this makes sense because the Chatham Island tui is a sub-species which is critically endangered.

He says this information could be used to identify virile males by their song so they could be moved to struggling tui populations.

"The more we know about their song the more we discover about their behaviour and the more we can manipulate them in terms of conservation."

He says in places such as the east coast of the South Island tui are virtually non-existent.

Hill says tui song can also be used to protect territory and communicate with other birds about food and predators such as hawks.

Tui he observed in Tawharanui had a repertoire of around 300 songs, compared with saddlebacks, also considered to have a large range of around 200 tunes.

"By personal observation a tui song can prevent most of the time another tui coming close.  

"However, sometime birds do come close and that's when it can become a bit physical. I think they have even been known to kill because they've got extremely sharp claws."

Not only does their song change according to their population's health but also according to the landscape they're singing in.

"In a more open area they will utilise a particular song to maximise the transmission of their song across that area, and in a dense area their song will be slightly different."

Hill explains tui were virtually non-existent in Auckland in the 1950s but their numbers have improved in patches across the region because of a greater awareness of conservation and initiatives like predator-proof fencing in places such as Tawharanui Regional Park.

However, the Auckland population is still vulnerable.

Hill hopes to take his research, which earned him a Masters of Conservation Science with Distinction, to the next level by examining variation in tui song in populations around the Auckland mainland and its islands.

Auckland Now