As the summer season approaches and the Christmas parties and after-work drinks come into effect, it's time for all of us to be careful with our consumption and ensure that we don't drink and drive. It's also a time when slightly inebriated kereru can be caught out after feasting on fermented fruit and swooping down in front of cars, into houses or people's back yards.
The New Zealand wood pigeon or kereru (also known as kukupa in the far north) are one of the largest pigeon species and are well-known New Zealand forest dwellers (their Chatham Island cousins, the parea, are about 20 per cent bigger than a kereru!). They are also seen in farmland as well as towns and cities where there is plenty of food for them. They are barely holding their own though, as habitat destruction and predation and being outcompeted for food by possums and rats take their toll on these impressive big-breasted birds.
I love kereru. I get a kick out of that distinctive woosh-woosh-woosh sound as they fly over at low heights, and I love their aerobatic routines of swooping and diving that would put some of the Warbirds over Wanaka pilots to shame! Last weekend, the bloke and I headed to my deep southern roots of the Catlins to my grandparents' combined 80th party, and during our travels around Niagara and Waikawa we saw big flocks of kereru, which are clearly benefiting from the sustained pest control in that area.
The flip-top head of the kereru enables it to swallow quite a mouthful! (Photo: K Raw)
And forests benefit from kereru numbers too. It has long been known that kereru are the only bird that has a gape wide enough to swallow our larger forest berries and fruits such as miro, taraire and karaka whole. To gain an understanding of what it must be like for the kereru to open their beaks wide enough to swallow these fruits, imagine yourself swallowing a grapefruit whole. It's a bit like having a flip-top head!
When the kereru gulp down these berries the fruit is passed through their digestive system, where the fleshy fruit part is stripped off, and the seed is passed out ready to germinate in a helpfully nutrient-rich pigeon poo. In addition, because the kereru can fly long distances, they can disperse seeds far and wide, and this is crucial in forest regeneration. A recent study of the relationship between kereru and native trees such as taraire and karaka showed that where the birds were present in a forest but in decline, the forest regeneration declined by as much as 84 per cent.
One of the biggest threats to kereru in suburban areas is what happens when they hit a window. Nik Hurring is a tireless vet nurse who runs Project Kereru in Dunedin and she reckons 70 per cent of her injured birds have hit windows in the area. She has found a great solution in window decals that reflect ultraviolet sunlight, meaning the kereru see the decal from miles away and can take evasive aerial action before they risk hitting the window.
This rather macabre angel wing print is the sad result of a kereru hitting the window (Photo: P Kennard)
If you find a kereru that has hit a window, or appears injured in any way, pick it up carefully using a towel, hold the wings against its body and place it in a cardboard box, somewhere warm, dark and quiet. Then call the local Department of Conservation office and ask their advice.
Freedom! thanks to the endless hours put in by volunteers, kereru like this one can be released to the wild.
If you'd like to encourage kereru to stay around your area, there is a great list on the Kereru Discovery site of what to plant.
And if you want to hear what the kereru think about all this, I thoroughly recommend this funny wee video.