Kereru or (kukupa, kuku or native woodpigeon) is New Zealand’s only endemic pigeon. Kereru is also the only surviving bird since moa and huia capable of ingesting the large fruit and berries of the native trees of New Zealand and dispersing their seed. Trees such as miro, puriri, tawa and tairare are especially reliant on Kereru to disperse their seed so that they may naturally regenerate.
Both the male and female Kereru are similar in looks. The head, throat and chest of Kereru are a beautiful metallic, green and bronze iridescence. The breast and belly of the bird are white. The eyes, eye rings, beak and feet are a dark crimson.
Kereru is found in most lowland native forests of the North and South Islands , Stewart Island and many of its neighbouring islands. There are two sub-species of native pigeon, the New Zealand pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) known to the Maori as Kereru, or in Northland as kuku or kukupa, and the Chatham Island pigeon (Hemiphaga n. chathamensis) or parea. Since the arrival of Maori and Europeans to New Zealand Kereru has experienced a steady decline in numbers due to issues of habitat loss, introduced browsing and predatory mammals and hunting with guns.
This decline was acknowledged with the introduction of the Wild Birds Protection Act 1864. Section III of the act states “no wild duck, paradise duck or pigeon indigenous to the colony shall be taken, hunted or killed except during the months of April, May, June and July of any year.
Further restrictions were introduced in 1908 with the Animal Protection Act and the seasons were shortened from May to July and every third season there were complete bans. It wasn’t until 1921 that absolute protection was administered under the Animal Protection and Game Act.
Unfortunately this legislation has not reversed the decline of Kereru and in some pockets of New Zealand numbers have decreased by as much as 50% in as many years. Continued threats from predating and browsing species such as possum, stoat, rat and weasel, continued poaching of Kereru as a food source and loss of habitat are taking its toll on the species and if change does not take place we may see the eventual extinction of one of New Zealand’s most beautiful endemic bird species.