Its scientific epithet alludes accidentally and almost onomatopoeically to the fluid, molten beauty of its voice, the silky bell-like tones interspersed with sharp glossal stops and Bushman clicks. The fine young male above collided with our window and sat groggily on our hands and in a nearby shrub while we ensured it would not be bagged by local cats.
They're common and frequently encountered here in Coastal Otago though there are many places around New Zealand where they are still absent, having still not recovered from the waves of disease and predation that accompanied humanity onto these islands. As honeyeaters and insectivores they are, like their relatives the Tui, oddly simian in the way they negotiate the canopies of trees, hopping and climbing like small monkeys in their endless quest for moths and blossom. And like waxeyes we've seen them patiently lift the frilled silver discs of lichen adhering to the bark with their beaks in order to winkle out the invertebrates sheltering underneath. In early summer they desert our burb and return in droves to the surrounding forest and to the local ecosanctuary, Orokonui, where they pair up and breed in a more peaceful, pest-free environment. The odd couple stay to breed around here, possibly because of the preponderance of flowering eucalyptus in the vicinity, but their success is uncertain.
Bellbirds particularly enjoy the nectar of our native tree fuchsia, Fuchsia Excorticata or Kotukutuku, a wizened, twisted, heavy-boled species, the largest in the world, smothered in papery toffee-brown bark and hung with purple-stained flowers that are like a host of tiny jewelled lanterns. Local bellbirds are often glimpsed with their slaty faces completely dusted with the cobalt-blue pollen of this amazing species, as if their beauty needed further embellishment. If you look closely you can see a few grains on the face of this bird collected from the fuchsia in our yard.
As I sit at my desk and stare at the screen I'll sometimes see a furious little shower of water descending past the window, fanned out of the roof guttering by a bathing bellbird.
A beautiful companion.