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Tui one of world's most intelligent birds

Tuesday 15 May 2012 8:12 p.m.

By Alex Bourn

An Auckland study into the native call of the tui has revealed its song ranks as one the bird-world's most complex.

New research places the tui amongst a handful of intelligent birds that can produce more than 300 songs, with some singing thousands.

Researchers at Massey University believe it can help improve the survival of the native bird by identifying the reasons behind their songs.

Massey University masters student Sam Hill compared the sound of mainland tui to those in the Chatham Islands and discovered the species have regional dialects and accents.

“We took a 2.5 hour sample from Tawharanui of continuous recording and found that there were 300 different songs, or song types, within a very small population, so maybe five or 10 birds, which suggests that possibly there could be at least 30 songs per bird.”

Researchers were able to distinguish between a distress call from a female protecting her nest and a tui suddenly alarmed.

They also found that when it comes to attracting the opposite sex, sound does matter.

Males with a high-pitched "trill" sound have a better chance at getting the girl because the intricate song shows off their intelligence.

“The greater the competition in the area, then the more likely the birds are to actually create or make their song more complex,” Mr Hill says.

Mr Hill says being able to identify the repertoire of strong tui males could help conservationists too.

“This male is a good quality individual, worthy of taking out of this population and putting it into an area where there are less tui or even no tui, to help make the gene pool stronger.”

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