New Zealand pigeon/kererū conservation
Our native pigeons
There are two species of native pigeon:
- New Zealand pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) known as kererū, or in Northland as kūkū or kūkupa
- Chatham Islands pigeon (Hemiphaga chathamensis) or parea
Kererū can measure up to 51 cm from tail to beak, and weigh about 650 g. Parea are around 20% heavier.
While kererū are not threatened, parea are considered nationally vulnerable. Two other kinds of native pigeon became extinct on Raoul Island and Norfolk Island last century, probably due to hunting and predation.
Did you know?
Chicks are fed "pigeon milk", a protein-rich milky secretion from the walls of the parents' crops, mixed with fruit pulp.
Important seed dispersers
Since the extinction of the moa, the kererū and parea are now the only bird species that are big enough to swallow large fruit, such as those of karaka, miro, tawa and taraire, and disperse the seed over long distances. The disappearance of these birds could be a disaster for the regeneration of our native forests.
Nationally, the kererū population is considered to be stable but its numbers are gradually declining in areas where predation and illegal hunting are unchecked.
That decline has been offset due to recovery on predator-free offshore islands, or from large-scale recovery at sites with widespread pest control, particularly near large urban centres.
Although the kererū was traditionally hunted for its meat and feathers, hunting of the bird is now illegal.
The most serious threat to the kererū comes from predators. Recent studies in several parts of the country have found that many nests produce no chicks at all. Rats, stoats, cats and possums eat their eggs and young; stoats and cats will also attack and kill adult kererū.
Possums also compete with adult kererū for food (leaves, flowers, fruit) and devastate trees by consuming new shoots. Forest clearance and poaching are also threats to its survival. Research by the Department of Conservation, Landcare Research, universities and other groups has found that the species is unlikely to cope with hunting pressure.
In Northland, the kūkupa is in danger of becoming locally extinct through the combined effects of predation, competition and continued hunting.
The Department of Conservation carries out large-scale pest control operations. These assist the recovery of kererū by killing the predators that prey on their eggs and chicks. By controlling rats and possums, kererū populations can increase by 50 percent in two years.
We are also involved in educating the public about the plight of the New Zealand pigeon and encouraging local initiatives to save it.
In Northland, we have been working with local iwi to help stop illegal poaching of the kūkupa by educating young Māori about the disastrous effect this is having on the birds' survival rate.
You can help
There are lots of ways you can protect kererū in your region:
- Control predators by trapping or poisoning. If you find an occupied nest and trapping/poisoning is not an option, band the tree and interconnecting trees to exclude predators.
- Consider planting trees to feed the kererū. Tree lucerne is useful in the short-term as it flowers prolifically in winter and grows quickly; for a long-term solution, plant miro, titoki, tawa, fuchsia, kōwhai, five-finger, pate, pigeonwood, taraire, puriri and wineberry.
- Do not hunt kererū.
Find more ways to get involved by visiting these websites:
Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife.
Help protect our native birds
When visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
- Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
- Check for pests when visiting pest-free islands.
- Leave nesting birds alone.
- Use available access ways to get to the beach.
- Avoid leaving old fishing lines on beaches or in the sea.
- Follow the water care code and local navigation bylaws.
- Don't drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.
Other ways to help
- Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
- Volunteer to control predators and restore bird habitats.
- Set predator traps on our property.
- Put a bell on your cat's collar, feed it well, and keep it indoors at dusk/dawn and at night.