The return of the bellbird

Today, as I was putting my son down for his afternoon nap, I caught the melodic, undulating song of what might have been a tui, but when I looked out of my son’s window the bush on the bank outside, it was the distinctive olive shape of a smaller sized bird that I saw. It was a bellbird – the first that I have ever spotted either around my home, or indeed, in Paraparaumu [click here to view map], the coastal town in which I live.

We live on what used to be peat-bog swamp forest, interspersed by ancient sand-dunes formed millennia ago when sea levels were much higher, and the coast was further inland than coastline today. Most of the forest was destroyed here, initially for farms (the subdivision on which I live was a working farm less than a decade ago), and there is almost no bush remaining on the plains in or around the town.

So it was astonishing to see a bellbird some distance from the nearest forest remnant [the closest being the Paraparaumu Scenic Reserve] – and ironic perhaps that it was the Australian Banksia (rather like the New Zealand pohutakawa, but with yellow flowers), that had drawn it to our garden with its nectar.

Apart from the Banksia – which being Australian, are pretty tolerant of dry conditions – we have endeavoured to use mainly indigenous (and especially coastal) species to plant our fairly sizable garden. The soils here are dry and sandy, and unlike our neighbours, who continue to struggle to maintain lawns (at great cost both in time and money), we have long since given in to nature, and instead planted our “front lawn” out in indigenous plants, interspersed with a bit of cosmos for colour. Not only does this attract more birds than our neighbours’ lawns, it has the added bonus of not needing mowing!

We certainly hope that an additional benefit of our labour-saving approach to landscaping will be more visits from the bellbird – next time long enough, I hope, for me to photograph it.

Click here to hear the song of the bellbird/korimako. On hearing the bellbird on his expeditions to New Zealand, Captain Cook described the bird’s song as sounding “like small bells exquisitely tuned”.

Photo top left: male bellbird (Photo: Tim Lovegrove); Above right: The yellow flowers of the Banksia on the old dune beside our house. Bottom: our “front lawn” – very easy on the lawn-mower (Photos: C. Knight). Please obtain photographers’ permission before reproducing photos.

See also: Views of Kapiti 5: Paraparaumu Scenic Reserve; The spoonbills are back! Mixing homes with nature.

4 thoughts on “The return of the bellbird

  1. envirohistorynz May 1, 2011 / 2:00 pm

    A bellbird visited us again yesterday – and though talkative, was too quick (again) for me to get a photo. Talking to Lisa from DoC at the Whareroa Farm opening, apparently a number of people around the Kapiti Coast have reported bellbirds in their gardens recently. It seems that the population on Kapiti Island is doing so well, that it is at near-capacity, and birds are venturing further afield in search of food.
    Banksia are great for both bellbirds and tui because they flower in the colder months when NZ natives like pohutakawa have stopped flowering, so there may be great merit in planting these Australians in your garden!

  2. Alan February 2, 2012 / 8:02 pm

    we have a very pretty bellbird paying us a lot of attention.going by photo’s we think it is a male. he starts singing about day break, only one note though,so i started to copy him. our house has a balcony which goes out into the
    canopy of the tree’s. so when i start to whistle to him he comes right out to the end of the branch,in full view of me
    and chatter’s away . he would be 15 to 20 feet long as you whistle to him he will reply. Beautiful

  3. envirohistorynz February 5, 2012 / 7:54 am

    Thanks Alan. I would be interested to know what part of the country you live in, and whether these visitations from the friendly songster a relatively new development (as they are in our garden)?

  4. Derrick February 6, 2012 / 8:19 am

    Over the last few weeks we have had similar experiences to the above. We live in the older part of Awatea Ave, Paraparaumu. A Bellbird visits us several times a day and I have been within 2m of it. It spends a lot of time in some Pittosporum and also enjoys fuchsia flowers. In the Pittosporum it appears to be searching for small moths etc under the leaves.

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