An issue with leading a mostly vegetarian lifestyle, is that it can be difficult to adopt an intelligent pet. Most cats and dogs don’t seem to appreciate being fed a diet of spinach, beans, and bread.
Birds on the other-hand can make great (vegetarian) pets, but for various reasons you’re obligated to keep them in a cage, captive. Now in my mind, keeping a prisoner is not akin to keeping a pet. In fact, keeping a caged bird is only marginally less cruel than battery-hen and sow crate farms.
As a child I had a free-range pet bird. I found it abandoned while bringing the cows in one day. It was a funny looking wee thing, bigger than your normal sized baby bird, but otherwise rather ugly – it must have fallen out of a nest and survived the fall and trampling of 117 milk-laden bovines.
I scooped it up into safety, and from there-on it would became hands-down the best pet we had. That unsightly hatchling grew into a stunning black and white magpie. It would fearlessly disrespect our cats and dogs, hitch rides on the handlebars of the motorbike, and even dive-bomb those pesky door-to-door sellers if it felt they were getting too much attention.
So, I was inspired and excited to learn that tui also make great pets.
Tui are exceptionally intelligent birds and, like parrots, have the ability to perfectly mimic human speech. They are found throughout NZ in forests and cities alike and live off mainly native fruits and nectar. There are even a couple living in central Auckland, in the cat-infested suburb of Eden Terrace.
Tui also have the unusual characteristic of possessing two voice boxes, giving rise to their extensive and noisy repertoire, consisting of chirps, clicks, creaks, groans, mimicry of other birds and animals, and sounds even outside the range of human hearing.
It was these traits that made them a popular choice of pet in early colonial New Zealand.
So it was with bubbling enthusiasm that I announced to beau my plan of keeping a pet tui.
It would live in the backyard, in our newly planted and growing native mini wilderness (or wherever else it pleased).
“No”, was Beau’s response, “that’s illegal”.
“No it’s not”, I argued.
“Yes it is.”
“It is not! Besides, it’s not like they’re endangered”, I reasoned, “There’s even one in our backyard, and he needs a friend.”
“They’re a native, you can’t keep native animals as pets.”
“Because you just can’t. It’s wrong.”
“So I can raise a baby sparrow, but not a tui? What about a duck?”, I questioned.
“Ducks are right out.”
“Hmpf, I don’t believe you. I just googled “Is it legal to keep a pet tui”, and the Google returned dozens of references attesting to the fact that tui make excellent pets (albeit 100 years ago).”
So while I haven’t emailed DOC or the council to ascertain the legality of raising a tui*, I will endeavour to continue planting tui-attracting bush in our backyard.
Apparently to survive the winter in cities, tui are reliant on home-owners putting out sugar water and the occasional fruit. So, my next project will be to build a tui-feeder.
And, if they really are that smart, I might even succeed in teaching our resident tui a few tricks along the way.
*I suspect the illegality would come about in how the tui-chick was obtained.