Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Spot the pigeon: Great Kereru Count begins

Can you spot the pigeon? The 2016 Great Kereru Count kicked off today. Photo: File
Can you spot the pigeon? The 2016 Great Kereru Count kicked off today. Photo: File

Green, noisy, and a little on the hefty side: kereru are hard birds to miss.

So organisers of the annual Great Kereru Count, which kicked off today, are hoping there won't be any shortage of people keeping their eyes peeled for the quirky native wood pigeon over the next week.

The survey, running until next Sunday, aims to form a comprehensive picture of where kereru are in New Zealand, with the data helping to preserve not just the birds but the native forest ecosystems they serve through seed distribution.

Kereru remain the only mainland bird that can swallow large berries from trees like tawa, puriri, miro and karaka.

People are being encouraged to report any sightings over the period by logging them on the survey's website, adding reports, photos and videos to the NatureWatch NZ website, or downloading the iNaturalist App from iTunes and Google Play.

"To make kereru counts, people can use a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone - whatever works best for the observer," said organiser Tony Stoddard, of WWF-New Zealand.

An online map showing all sightings and a ticker with the number of birds reported will be updated automatically as the count progresses.

"Kereru are distinctive-looking birds - with their large size and bright white singlets, surrounded by green and purple plumage, makes them easy to spot perched in treetops or on power lines," Stoddard said.

"Whether you see any kereru or not, sharing your observations with us will help build up a clearer picture of where the birds live, how many there are and what they eat."

Victoria University ecology lecturer Dr Stephen Hartley said over the first few years of the project, organisers had sought to clarify exactly where they were distributed, what they were feeding on and especially the extent to which they are found in towns and cities.

"Over time, we hope to discover whether numbers are increasing or decreasing and whether populations are faring better or worse in some parts of the country compared to others," Hartley said.

Kereru are known as "gardeners of the sky" because of their ability to distribute seed around native forests. Photo: File
Kereru are known as "gardeners of the sky" because of their ability to distribute seed around native forests. Photo: File


"This year we are especially keen for people to seek out new locations as well as returning to old haunts to make timed observations of between five and 30 minutes.

"Even if you don't see a kereru in this time - that's still useful information and important to submit."

Wellington City Council environment partnership leader Tim Park said pest control and planting in Wellington had helped the once-threatened species recover.

"The kereru is an important species for regenerating native forest ecosystems - they distribute the seeds of trees that make up the canopy of the forest by 'pigeon-post', playing a key role in regenerating broadleaf forests."

A map of last year's Great Kereru Count - a partnership between WWF-New Zealand, Kereru Discovery, Victoria University, Wellington City Council and NatureWatch NZ - can be found here.

Kereru: our noisy, pudgy, gardeners of the skies

• Considered to be common and widespread in native forests and increasingly in urban areas throughout the North and South Islands, Stewart Island/Rakiura and large offshore islands.

• Threats include habitat loss through forest clearance, predation by rats, stoats, possums and cats, and competition for food with possums.

• The Great Kereru Count has been running since 2011, and last year there were 8743 reported sightings and 19,640 kereru counted.

• The greatest number of birds recorded per 1000 people were made in the West Coast region, followed by Tasman and Wellington.

• Understanding the spatial patterns and distribution of kereru in New Zealand is critical to the conservation of the species. Observations appear clustered around urban centres, with high concentrations of observations in the Wellington, Auckland, Nelson and Otago regions.

- NZ Herald

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