I've been catching a lot of dawn choruses lately while walking the dog, and I have to say they would be deeply disappointing affairs if it weren't for the immigrants.

For all that New Zealand is a country rich in birdlife, with umpteen native species the standard of song is abysmal. People admire the tui, and the liquid notes it drops into our gardens are striking, but they never add up to anything satisfying.

You could grow old and die waiting to hear something connected. It sounds as though the tui is permanently tuning up, waiting in vain for the conductor's tap of the baton. Listening to it is an unrewarding business.


It does, moreover, tend to get its needle stuck. Our local bird is right now spending the entire day continuously whistling the same five-note phrase.

Since the tui, please note, is the first to start up and the last to shut up, in summer this makes for the sort of epic performance that knocks The Lord of the Rings into a cocked hat.

It's enough to make you view the whole policy of wildlife protection as a bit of a racket: my version would certainly involve sending in the Mob.

The grey warbler, similarly, though fluent and assured with its short but more varied phrase, also has no understanding of the concept "less is more" and repeats itself endlessly. When small children do this with the only two lines of a song they can remember, we tell them to go away.

I think the grey warbler ought to push off, too; 15 repetitions to the pegging-out of one basket of washing is the kind of mind-numbing ratio that should arouse the interest of Amnesty International.

These two are the only distinctive native birdsongs we commonly hear, unless we venture into the deepest bush.

All the rest are a variation on twitter and squawk, from the fidgety fantail to the pterodactyl-like heron, mournfully swooping down onto soggy playing fields. They are all equally forgettable, musically speaking.

No, for true heart-lifting, spirit-lightening glory, we have to turn to the English songbirds introduced by homesick pioneers in the 19th century - people who have since been vilified for their insensitivity to biological purity.


Well, three cheers for them, I say. What sort of dawn or dusk would it be without the blackbird's professional performance, delivered from the highest branch, or the thrush's subtly varied triple phrases?

These birds know what they're doing, and they never disappoint. They stake out parks and gardens according to strict avian hierarchies, throw their little hearts into their singing, and fill the air with melody. They leave the silvereye and the fantail for dead.

In all other spheres of modern life, people expect to be able to fulfil their every aesthetic whim: you're as likely these days to find a piece of Inuit scrimshaw on the coffee table, or an ancient Inca fertility goddess, as a pottery bowl from the Coromandel.

In one week we might eat food originating from seven different countries, made with authentic ingredients. Our houses could have been transported from Tuscany, France or California.

We bring back clothes, music, hairstyles, vehicles, equipment and soft furnishings from all over the world.

The plant world has been scoured, too, and we can have our choice from an entire alphabet of exotica, from acers to zantedeschia, to add colour and interest to our gardens. So why can't we do the same with the birdlife?


An English robin trilling its melodious and infinitely varied song from a manuka tree would be a joy both to hear and, with its cheery red breast, to see.

Because that's the other thing: our native birds are, with a few exceptions, so drab in appearance. None more so, it must be said, than the kiwi.

Away in the bush, it doesn't much matter; but in the millions of hectares of parks and gardens that are bright with bougainvillea and jacaranda, we could do with some birds that are a bit jollier to look at than the incumbent dull green and brown jobs.

An unofficial start has been made, but why stop at rosellas and rainbow lorikeets? Let's have gaudy flights of multi-coloured budgies, jewelled hummingbirds hovering in the kowhai, spectacular birds of paradise nesting in the flax.

When we cheerfully and freely pick and choose among the world's best to enrich every other aspect of our lives, why should we stint ourselves with the birds?

Our society is now irreversibly mixed - stand on Queen St and you'll see every possible nationality scurry past - and no one would dare suggest that this is anything other than desirable.


So why do we have to persist with this avian xenophobia?