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Tree lucerne a vital backup for kereru

NATURAL WORLD

PAUL GAY
Last updated 11:32 05/09/2014
Southland Times photo

Kereru, or native pigeon.

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This kereru or native pigeon was photographed as it balanced on a branch that could barely hold its weight. It was there feeding on a shrub known as tree lucerne.

Tree lucerne was introduced to New Zealand in 1897 as a fodder crop to be grown on poorer soils. In some places it is now regarded as an invasive species. An environmental weed. Whatever its status it is in many areas a "life saver" for the kereru.

Kereru normally fed almost entirely on fruit, especially native species like miro and matai and when these are in short supply introduced species such as small plums are favoured. In winter, fruit becomes scarce and the kereru turns to flowers and leaves. By late winter flowers are also in short supply and leaves may become the sole food.

This is when the tree lucerne becomes an important part of the kereru's diet. They know where there are tree lucerne species and visit regularly.

This kereru has leaned forward as far as it can reach and actually has a young tree lucerne leaf in its bill.

Flower buds are also taken. After feeding for several minutes this kereru and its mate that was feeding on the same bush flew off to a group of nearby tall trees, their crops probably well filled with tree lucerne leaves.

Observations over several days showed that about 20 kereru and many bell birds were feeding off the patches of tree lucerne in this particular locality.

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- The Southland Times

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