Hungry wood pigeons are filling up Whangārei's Bird Recovery Centre as the kūkupa's food source dries up in the wild and they eat plants that are toxic to them.

Bird Recovery Centre boss Robert Webb said he normally got about 80 kūkupa (native wood pigeons, also known as kererū) in every year for a variety of ailments - including public drunkenness from eating fermenting berries - but this year was particularly bad.

Webb said in the last month he had 25 kererū dropped in to the Whangārei centre and another 10 in Kerikeri - and some of them were literally starving.

''August to September is traditionally when their food sources dry up and the next lot of berries haven't started yet. At this time of year all the fruit they eat has gone, such as guava, so they have to find something else to eat. And what they are eating isn't good for them,'' Webb said.

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''They eat things like new leaves on tamarillos, but they are toxic to them. They are also eating the new buds on the kiwifruit orchards, which isn't a good idea either.''

And as a result the birds become sick and need a stay in the Bird Recovery Centre's bird hospital.

He said the situation was so bad that the Ministry for Primary Industry asked him to send dropping samples from the pigeons to test that there wasn't something more sinister.

The Whangārei Bird Recovery Centre has a number of kūkupa who are short on food.
The Whangārei Bird Recovery Centre has a number of kūkupa who are short on food.

But the tests came back to confirm what Webb suspected: ''They are starving.''

He said the birds were nursed back to health at the centre before being released back into the wild.

Webb said people who had kererū around their properties could help them survive the next month or so when the food supply is short.

''Corn. The wood pigeons love it. If people want to help they can get some whole kernel sweet corn from the freezer, let it defrost then put it in a dish on a platform in the garden and they will come and eat it.''

He said the success of kererū preservation efforts may be partly behind the situation as there were now more of them competing for food.

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''That's fantastic, but they need a bit of help at this time of year to stop them starving.''

Anybody who finds wood pigeons in distress can drop them off to the centre, behind Kiwi North at the Maunu Museum site, or ring the centre on 09 438 1457.