The tūī that perched on Jody Hunter's shoulder while the was trying to build a swimming pool at Rangiputa (Close encounter with tūī of the uncomfortable kind, Northland Age June 10) was no ordinary bird. And his interest in Jody wasn't quite as random as it might have appeared.
Te Kooti, as he is known, was a fledgling with an injured wing when Janine Henderson found him on Wellington's Riverdale Track over Northland's anniversary weekend, and, when the ranger didn't answer the phone and the rescues were all full, he embarked upon a "little road trip" to Rangiputa.
"It took us four days, sneaking into hotels on the way," Janine said.
"We took him to the vet. The amount of damage on that one trip meant he wouldn't make it to Whangārei Bird Rescue, but the team have been super helpful, and we have a healthy (tūī) population up here."
Janine couldn't be absolutely sure that Te Kooti ("Like his namesake he evades capture and is a prophet and a healer") was male, but given that he was now about nine months old and was showing no signs of interest in nesting she suspected he was. He now lived at Rangiputa as a free bird, coming and going as he pleased, but while he normally didn't go far he had recently disappeared for four days, prompting concerns for his wellbeing.
He turned up some 2km away, and flew home when he was called.
"He will perch on people, shoulders," Janine said, "and you have to watch out for your eyes, ears and nose. I'm told it can't be trained to be avoided, although I keep trying."
Te Kooti has a cage in the Henderson home, although it's not a cage in the true sense. If he returns at the end of the day, that's where he sleeps. He also has some handy pohutukawa trees to roost in.
"The cage can be open or closed. He doesn't mind either way. It's just home for him. Otherwise he's outside, then he's overnight camping," Kyle Henderson said.
"I'm up about 7 each morning and get treated to our own dawn chorus to open the doors etc., and they're open until dark if he's in or out."
That was largely for Te Kooti's protection and safety. He shares his patch with dogs, possums "and other night crawlers - feral cats that we're trapping - and to avoid panicking for any reason at night and doing himself a mischief.
And while there was natural food in abundance in his immediate vicinity, he was partial to bananas, very ripe persimmons, pawpaws and sugar water with a little complan added.
Janine said she hoped the name Te Kooti, which radiated mana and suited the big personality that tūī certainly had, would bestow some degree of protection from predators, adding that his adoptive "mumma" also hailed from Ngāti Tanemitirangi, of Ngāti Kahungunu, and she was hopeful of one day teaching him te reo.
"But now he's just happy flying through trees and chasing away mynas," she said.
"He is a pesky, cheeky boy who loves to dance on your hands, sit on your shoulders, and if you have any spare, a little honey on a stick.
"He spends his days flying through the puriri trees and chasing other wild tūī through the trees, foraging in flaxes, scaring our neighbours in their orchards, on Skype calls to family abroad and now whilst building pools. He flies home at night, ready for another adventure in the morning.
"I refer to him as my marae baby. I hope he brings as much joy to (other people's) lives as he does mine."
Kyle, whose ears have come in for close attention on more than one occasion, had no doubt about the bird's public appeal.
"He's brought joy to families abroad who have been in lockdown for quite some time. Such a character," he said.
"You can tell the council that clearly we're capable of looking after our own taonga, thanks."