PIGEON, NEW ZEALAND
The kereru of the Maori, the native pigeon is for size and brilliance of plumage one of the most magnificent of all pigeons. Widely distributed throughout almost the whole country and fearless of man, it is probably the most familiar of all the native forest birds, for no one can mistake its multi-coloured, metallic-shining back and wings, spotless white breast and abdomen, and coral red bill and feet. Both sexes are alike in appearance. Usually silent, the pigeon's commonest call is a soft “ku”. Its flight is characteristically strong and noisy.
Although the pigeon was once extremely abundant, its range and numbers were much reduced by settlement and the clearing of much of the native forests. Taken for food and feathers by the old-time Maori and at one time by the European settlers as well, the pigeon has responded to full legal protection and even shows signs of adapting itself successfully to many a habitat where introduced vegetation is dominant. This may be true of the race of Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae inhabiting New Zealand proper, but it is not true of the distinct Chatham Island race which at present is in grave danger of extinction. A race that once inhabited Norfolk Island is already extinct.
Because of its diet, the native pigeon plays an important role in the ecology of native forests. It eats a variety of berries and fruits and so spreads the seeds of a number of commercially important timber trees or plants which play an essential part in forest succession.
Nests are built in shade at some distance from the ground and consist of an untidy platform of sticks through which the single white egg may often be seen. After about a month's incubation, an almost naked chick hatches which is fed for a time on a secretion from the parent's crop called “pigeon's milk”, later supplanted by partially digested berries. The young bird remains in the nest for about six weeks.
by Gordon Roy Williams, B.SC.(HONS.)(SYDNEY), Lecturer in Agricultural Zoology, Lincoln Agricultural College.