Our name ‘Ngā Manu’ means ‘The Birds’ in Māori and reflects our primary focus of the conservation of native birds. The kererū, New Zealand’s native pigeon, also known as kuku, kūkupa and wood pigeon, is abundant at Ngā Manu in spring, at the arrival of fruits and berries and is a favourite with visitors.
We have many kererū brought to us in spring by members of the public for rehabilitation. They have often flown into cars, windows or trees, resulting in injury and would not survive if left in the wild. We will not initiate treatment and care if it is not in the birds’ best interests. The bird must not be in severe pain, or be so badly injured that it is unlikely to survive. Unfortunately for some sick or injured birds, sometimes euthanasia is the kindest option.
The birds are checked by staff at Ngā Manu, or are taken to Raumati Veterinary Centre for X-rays, a full check-up and diagnosis. They then begin their rehabilitation process at Ngā Manu. This involves a stepped process, usually beginning with heated confinement for a period while the bird regains its feeding and perching ability, then through to being housed in small aviaries at first where they are able to regain their mobility and wing strength while being closely monitored in a safe environment.
Birds are cared for until they reach full independence and are able to be released into larger public aviaries or back into the wild. In the springtime we usually have more than a dozen birds in residence, of which more than half are destined to be released in due course.
The kererū may well be the most important bird we have in New Zealand as it plays a vital role in the regeneration of our native forest. Since the extinction of the moa, the native pigeon is now the only seed disperser with a beak big enough to swallow fruit larger than 12mm in diameter. Native trees such as the karaka, taraire, tawa, miro and puriri depend on the kererū to carry their seeds to new areas of forest, so without the kererū, these species would die out. Kererū disperse the seeds of over 70 native tree species!
The kererū is one of New Zealand’s iconic birds. They are easily recognised by their iridescent green and bronze feathers and bright white chest. A kererū can live up to and over 20 years! Since 2008 the DOC conservation status of the kererū has been ‘not threatened’, although they have been much reduced in abundance due to habitat loss, and predation by introduced species.
They nest in spring and early summer, producing only one egg at a time. Both parents incubate the egg in a well-hidden nest of twigs. The egg hatches after about a month, and parents feed the chick a protein-rich ‘milk’, which they secrete from their crops. The parents add partially-digested fruit to the chicks’ diet after a couple of weeks and continue to feed them for at least another couple of weeks after they have left the nest, at 30-45 days old. Over the course of a good breeding season, they may raise three chicks. Unfortunately some studies have found that fewer than 15 per cent of chicks survive long enough to become independent, as they are the prey of cats, possums, rats and stoats.
Ngā Manu Nature Reserve provides a safe haven for kererū and during springtime the male kererū perform amazing aerial mating displays. You can often hear the distinctive sound of their wing beat up in the trees as you explore the native bush and swamp forest.
We enjoy involving the public with our kererū rehabilitation and release through our ‘Ranger for the Day’ Experience, where visitors learn about the work going on behind-the-scenes and are directly involved in it. Both children and adults delight in the hands-on experience and end their day with a greater understanding and appreciation of the native birds. The captive kererū are carefully monitored, and once the birds have become fully independent, reached a good weight and have good health they are ready for release. The aviaries are opened up so that the birds can fly free, but often they choose to stay in the aviary and have to be coaxed out or caught in nets and released. Sometimes the released birds continue to stay close to their aviary for days before venturing off to explore their new habitat in the reserve.
If you come across a sick or injured kererū, the best thing to do is to line a cardboard box with newspaper, and then pick the bird up in a clean towel or blanket and place it into the box in a warm, dark and quiet place. Contact your local bird sanctuary, vet or the Department of Conservation and they will be able to advise you on the steps to take. Many kererū are only stunned in an accident (especially a window impact) and often just need some quiet time to recover and then fly again, so check on the bird periodically; it may well be able to be released. Obvious injuries like a drooping wing (likely broken) are more serious, and you will need to get the bird to an agency for attention.
There are many ways you can attract and encourage kererū to your own garden and neighbourhood. If you would like to get more involved in protecting the kererū please check out Kererū Discovery in Wellington.
Blog written by Sarah Fields (Ngā Manu Administration and Marketing Officer).