Meet the Bird Whisperer

Last Updated : 08 Oct 2019
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Biodiversity advisor Tim Lovegrove whistling to native birds

Most of us enjoy just listening to birds but for Tim Lovegrove, talking to birds is as normal as chatting over coffee with friends.

A regional fauna advisor in the council’s Biodiversity team, he’s fondly dubbed 'The Bird Whisperer'. Tim can distinguish and identify many different bird languages by ear, and mimic their chatter through whistles and coos with the occasional help of lures made from forest grasses (which are especially useful for talking to little birds). 

He has a forest address book of different family nests that helps him stroll through various bird neighbourhoods, calling out to them in their native bird song to let them know he’s visiting and they call back or come fluttering over.

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Annual count of native birds

When asked what made him start talking to birds he seemed almost surprised at why it was even a question.

“I’ve been listening to birds for years and got familiar with their calls,” he says.

“Being able to call them is a way of seeing birds you might otherwise not see.

"So why not whistle them in? I can bring birds to me with a few squeaks or a whistle.”

At that he gives a few calls – reed between his teeth, eyes sharp and focused. Almost instantly an answer trills out and Tim grins, removing the reed.

“Ah there you see,” he nods, with the air of recognizing an old friend. “That’s the North Island tomtit.”

He also explains the Five Minute Bird Count technique, one of the ways he conducts annual counts to keep track of bush bird numbers. For these counts, a trained ear is essential because the birds are not lured into view. The birds counted are just those you see and hear over a five minute period.

“In the thick bush, it’s amazing how much you miss just using your eyes – you really do rely heavily on your ears.”

Even as we talk, he reels them off, “There’s the trill of a grey warbler now, a chime from a tui over there and now a chattering chaffinch. Listen to that, it’s a song thrush; listen how he always repeats himself.  Sometimes we see kākā – they have a range of powerful whistles and you can lure them right in by mimicking those.”

So, if you’re ever wandering through the forest and come across a man and bird chatting, make sure to say hello, or at least give a friendly tweet.

Listen to more of how Tim Lovegrove's work is helping Auckland conservation at RadioNZ.

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