Pukekura Park - its ecology and history - Friends of Pukekura Park New Plymouth Inc.

Exotic Plants as Winter Nectar Sources for Tui

Almost all of the prime lowland native forest that once covered most of mainland New Zealand has gone, and the condition of that which remains has been seriously degraded by a variety of factors. Now, over much of mainland New Zealand, the flora is a mixture of native and exotic species, and exotic vegetation is often more common and widespread than is native vegetation. Exotic plants form an integral part of the New Zealand environment, and will always do so.

It appears that tui in many parts of mainland New Zealand now rely on the floral nectar of a variety of exotic plants to help meet their energy needs in the cooler months of the year when those needs are greatest. Indeed, the maintenance of mainland populations of tui in some areas may well depend in large part upon the availability of those nectar sources. However, the importance of exotic plants as a source of floral nectar for tui in the cooler months of the year is not adequately acknowledged and remains virtually unstudied.

Tui Pukekura Park is situated in central New Plymouth and is surrounded by residential development. It covers an area of c.54 hectares and contains a large number of many different native and exotic plants. Some tui appear to be resident in the park, and several pairs nest there each year. Their number increases significantly from about April as birds arrive from elsewhere in search of floral nectar sources to sustain them during the cooler months of the year. Tui are common in the park from then until about October when most leave the area with the end of kowhai (Sophora microphylla) flowering.

I spent c.204 hours on 96 days in June-August 2003 and in June-August 2004 in the park. During this time I frequently saw tui feeding on nectar of the flowers of various plants, both native and exotic. The results will appear in detail elsewhere. Suffice to say here that I saw tui feed 1247 times on nectar of which a very significant number, 1117 times or 90%, were observations of tui feeding on nectar from flowers of exotic plants. The exotic plants visited most for nectar were camellias, to which there were 646 observed feeding visits involving at least 33 species and identified cultivars, and the Formosan cherry (Prunus campanulata), to which there were 339 observed feeding visits. These observations indicate that those exotic plants are of prime importance as sources of nectar for tui in Pukekura Park during winter.


The presence in Pukekura Park of exotic nectar sources of value to tui is likely to be the main reason why so many of those birds are attracted to the park, and reside there during the cooler months of the year. The provision of suitable exotic flowering plants in parks and gardens elsewhere in New Zealand could well help to enhance and maintain local tui populations.

David Medway

Reproduced, with permission, from Miranda Naturalists’ Trust News No. 60 (February 2006).

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