Ngā manu

Published

Have a look in the list below and see if you can pick out the Māori name for the bird also known as the New Zealand Fantail.

hīrairaka; hītakataka; hīwai; hīwaiwaka; hīwakawaka; kōtiutiu; pīrairaka; pīrakaraka; pīrangirangi; pītakataka; pīwaiwaka; pīwakawaka; tīaiaka; tīaka; tīakaaka; tieaka; tīrairaka; tīrakaraka; tītaiwaka; tītakataka; tītīrairaka; tīwaiwaka; tīwakawaka; wakawaka

If you picked the one about half way through — pīwakawaka — then you probably learned the name the same way I did. You can read about it online, from both official and anecdotal sources, and in books. All three field guides I own, including the definitive Collins guide my father would always consult, list only pīwakawaka. Lots of people know the name.

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A New Zealand Fantail / pīwakawaka in my back garden

But what if I told you that all of the names in the list refer to our little friend the New Zealand Fantail? It’s true. This article erroneously claims there are 19 names while listing 24 (and two duplicates), and then goes on to claim there are 34 for the New Zealand Robin — which is, at least, covering two species — and 33 for the single species of Bellbird!

It makes a fascinating read as to why Māori have so many names for what scientists would classify as a single species, including the sex of the bird, its age, its location, or its activity when being observed. More predictably, different regional dialects come into play as well.

The one that struck me the most is that relatively common garden visitor — in Wellington at least — the tūī. Given it almost always goes by this Māori name, even while the English “Parson Bird” is available, it surprised me to learn that kōkō is also widely used by Māori.

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A tūī in my front garden

I discovered this cornucopia of names while researching an important topic for posts like this — what is the correct use of capitalisation in bird names? Is it “Grey Warbler” or “grey warbler”? I discovered that this is a hotly debated topic, but I eventually fell into line with the views of this author and photographer. Thus throughout this article, you will see names like “New Zealand Fantail”. But you will also see “pīwakawaka” with no initial capital. I could not find a definitive or compelling position on Māori names, but did notice that every place I looked they were in lower case unless in isolation or at the beginning of a sentence. So this, at least, would seem to be a consistent position.

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