The bedside clock radio said 4.30am. The neighbourhood tui had returned from wherever it is that tui go for their winter holidays. High in his gum tree roost a street over from mine, he was back with his endless doleful three-note call.

Why, if the native birds are making a comeback into the inner suburbs, couldn't it be a bellbird instead? Like the one that sent Joseph Banks, the naturalist travelling with explorer Captain James Cook, into raptures.

"I was awakened by the singing of the birds ashore, They made, perhaps, the most melodious wild music I have ever heard almost imitating small bells but with the most tunable silver sound imaginable."

Of course, it could be worse. In Wellington, the opening of the Karori Bird Sanctuary in 2000 led to an explosion in the city's tui population. Some sleep-deprived neighbours even rang the sanctuary to complain. An expert at the time pointed the finger at juveniles with a limited repertoire. He promised that in time, they'd move on from their three or four-note dirge to become "virtuoso performers".


That hasn't happened around my way these past few years. We seem to be stuck with the same old one-tune bird year after year. But, as the expert observed, "There are a lot worse noises to wake to". I guess.

The tui's return to my inner-city neighbourhood coincided with a warning from ecologist Dr Wayne Linklater that booming native bird populations are set to cause problems for city residents. The Victoria University researcher predicts that birds that were tempted to nibble at any food going, such as pukeko, kaka and red-billed gulls, are most likely to upset people with their excessive noise and fouling.

"Ironically, the success of nature restoration projects in urban areas may well raise the chances of conflict as more birds re-colonise our cities."

Conflict does sound a rather extreme word to use in such circumstances. The invasion is hardly in full swing. And if the Wellington experiment is anything to go by, the odds are still loaded steeply against any bird trying to become a city-slicker. Kaka were first released in Wellington's protected Zealandia conservation sanctuary in 2002 and, as a result, central Wellington is now home to 200 to 250 banded parrots and an unknown number of others. Unfortunately, some are succumbing to lead poisoning, their inquisitive nature and the sweet taste of old lead-headed roofing nails a potentially fatal mix.

One householder, living near the sanctuary, replaced their lead-head nails with something less palatable, which does sound a much more encouraging response than "conflict".

Home in Ponsonby, I'm not expecting an invasion of swamp hens in my grass berm any time soon. As for gulls, they do get blown in from the Gulf from time to time, less pest than natural early warning alarm of an impending storm.

As for kaka, well if only. This time last year, an injured parrot was rescued from a downtown Queen St gutter, ending up in the aviary at Auckland Zoo. Perhaps it flew in from one of the Gulf island sanctuaries. I'd recently returned from a trip to Sydney, and compared with that city, it seemed a sad fate for a local bird.

For all its urban vastness, human Sydney manages to share the cityscape with its native birds. In suburbia, sitting in a shady backyard for a quiet read, it is something of a joke. For a Kiwi visitor anyway. Not only are the birds big, they're noisy - both in song and when they crash land in branches overhead. On one visit, a flock of cockatoos stripped the neighbour's mandarin tree. Offer a nosy mynah some bread, and he's inside the house looking for more. But life went on.

Coming from a land where foreign blackbirds and sparrows dominate, Sydney seems a good example of how indigenous birdlife and humans can co-exist. The idea of a few native parrots visiting Ponsonby from time to time to liven up the scene is appealing. Of course, I said that about the kingfishers that came visiting a few years back, admiring their iridescence, until I spotted one fleeing past with a goldfish in its beak.

Still, if there's any compromises that have to be made to persuade native birds to become urbanised, it's surely time, after 250 years of wholesale destruction, for humans to do the bending.

Cook admired the tui's song, but wrote in his diary, "the flesh is also most delicious and was the greatest luxury the wood afforded us". For more than a century up until 1971, the Government paid a bounty to high country South Island farmers on every kea killed. More than 150,000 payments were made. The population of this now endangered mountain parrot hovers between 1000 and 5000. Population numbers of its cousin, the kaka, are falling nationwide. The Department of Conservation rates it "nationally vulnerable".

It would seem excellent news, if their populations did start booming, in cities or out. A "problem" to dream - not fret - about.