New Zealand's Native Wood Pigeon
Maori Name: Kereru, Kuku, Kukupa
Scientific Name: Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae
Painting (at left) Paula Novak (Istra) 2002 (C)
See selections of Paula's art here  or go to her website
Photographs: Keith Newman

The New Zealand native Wood Pigeon is distinguished by its size, its distinctive colouring of white chest with purple, blue and green body and its size. You can hear this bird coming by the swoosh swoosh sound of its flight and the unmistakable bowing of lighter branches as it parks itself in native trees.

These stunning birds, the size of an average hen, are most often found in pairs and they love feasting on ripe Nikau berries or the fruit of the kohekohe tree.
the kereru is the only bird with a beak that can open wide enough to swallow the big seeds of trees such as puriri, miro, taraire, karaka, tawa and kohekohe. They also eat the fuit of the titoki, pigeonwood, supplejack, kahikatea and many shrub species and in spring the leaves and flowers of houhere and kowhai, feeding on a total of 72 native species.

The kereru
lives and nests in tall native trees.  Its dove-like call sounds with a soft kuu, with long pauses in between. The males attract females by performing continual high swooping dives. The females lay one white egg per year.

To the early Maori the kereru was a delicacy but is now a protected bird and considered endangered.

Unlike other birds such as ducks or pukeko, kereru only produce one egg each year - even in a good season. According to the Royal forest & Bird Protection Society  this egg is incubated for one month and doesn't fledge for another 4-6 weeks. During this time the chick is dependent on both its parents, and is highly vulnerable to predation. Possums can eat their eggs and the berries and fruit they thrive on. Magpies and mynas sometimes attack them scaring them from their nest.

Although able to live up to 15 years on offshore islands, introduced predators have reduced their expected lifespan to an average of  5-6 years on the mainland. This is often reduced to about 3 years where illegal hunting pressure occurs. In one forest where there was extensive evidence of poaching, the decline was a staggering 70 per cent between 1979 - 1993. With only 10-15 per cent nesting success rate, many birds are dying before they can reproduce.

Undigested seeds eaten by the kereru fall to the ground in its droppings, where they sprout and grow - often many kilometres from the parent tree. These birds can fly long distances (up to 25 kilometres). This spreads the seeds of native species far and wide, helping our native forests to regenerate. - Compiled by Keith Newman

Nikau Palms see Paula's painting The Nikau Woman and her latest creation a Nikau diptych
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