New Zealand pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae)

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New Zealand pigeon
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New Zealand pigeon fact file

New Zealand pigeon description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderColumbiformes
FamilyColumbidae
GenusHemiphaga (1)

This brightly coloured pigeon is now the only remaining native bird with a bill big enough to disperse the fruit of New Zealand’s larger tree species (3). Its upperparts are iridescent dark green, with bronze and purple highlights, and it has a slightly paler grey-green back, with a silvery-grey tinge (2). The white underparts, which are distinct from the dark breast and wings, resemble a smart vest (2) (3). Juveniles have a much duller colour compared to the adults. There are two known subspecies alive today; the kereru, Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae novaeseelandiae, and the parea, Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae chathamensis. The red bill is heavier and longer on the parea (H. n. chathamensis), the larger of the two subspecies (2). During flight, the New Zealand pigeon produces a distinctive sound due to its noisy wing beat (2) (3).

Also known as
kereru, parea.
Synonyms
Columba novaeseelandiae, Hemiphaga chathamensis.
Size
Length: 46 – 50 cm (2)
Weight
600 – 800 g (2)
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New Zealand pigeon biology

Spectacular display flights by males are key breeding signals in this species (3). Pair bonds generally last for more than one season, and pairs will therefore also associate during the non-breeding season (2). The New Zealand pigeon is a slow breeder, producing only one egg in the spring or summer (5). The nest is a frail platform of twigs and the parents take it in turn to incubate the egg over a 28 to 30 day period. Following hatching, the chick stays in the nest for 36 to 45 days and is fed on ‘pigeon milk’ (2), a milky substance secreted from the walls of the parents’ crop (3).

The New Zealand pigeon feeds primarily on the fruits of large native trees, such as karaka, tawa and taraire (3). However, they also feed on leaves, shoots, flowers and buds of native and exotic species in winter and spring, when fruits are not available (2).

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New Zealand pigeon range

Endemic to New Zealand, the kereru (H. n. novaeseelandiae) is found on the North, South and Stewart Islands, as well as other offshore islands (4). The parea (H. n. chathamensis) is found only in the Chatham Islands, on Chatham and Mangere Islands, having become regionally extinct on Pitt Island. A third subspecies, H. n. spadicea, was once found on Norfolk Island but is now extinct (2).

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New Zealand pigeon habitat

The New Zealand pigeon is found in native podocarp, lowland forests (2).

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New Zealand pigeon status

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened

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New Zealand pigeon threats

The New Zealand pigeon was previously hunted for its meat and feathers by both Maoris and Europeans (2) (4). Along with forest clearing, this caused a substantial decline in their numbers following European settlement (2).

However, predators such as stoats (Mustela erminea), cats, possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) and rats (Rattus rattus), which were introduced to New Zealand by the Europeans, are now the main cause for concern (4). Both eggs and young chicks are lost to these predators (3). Competition also occurs with possums and rats for food, which result in starvation of the adults and failed breeding attempts (4).

On the North Island, the kereru is in real danger of becoming regionally extinct (3). A study in 1993 showed that the species had declined by 50 percent in just 14 years (4). Although able to live up to 15 years on offshore islands, on the mainland, life expectancy is just five to six years due to predation (5). The New Zealand pigeon is still affected today by habitat loss, due to browsing by herbivores and land clearance for farming (4). With the New Zealand pigeon under threat, many native trees dependant on them for seed dispersal, and subsequently forest regeneration, are also at risk (3).

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New Zealand pigeon conservation

Conservation efforts on the Chatham Islands have had a positive effect on the numbers of parea. Landowners have been protecting typical habitat from livestock by creating reserves and fencing remnant bush. Numbers have increased from 40 in the 1980s to around 250 in 2005. Local efforts have also seen a large increase in New Zealand pigeon numbers in small areas due to intensive predator control (3).

The New Zealand pigeon has been fully protected since 1921 under the Animals Protection and Game Act (6). However, illegal poaching still takes place today (3). The Department of Conservation is educating young Maori on the devastating effects that hunting has on the kereru on the North Island in order to prevent this activity from occurring in the future (3).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For further information on the New Zealand pigeon see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk
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Glossary

Crop
The crop is an expanded, muscular pouch near the throat. It is a part of the digestive tract, and is used to temporarily store food.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Podocarp
A family of coniferous trees found mainly in the southern hemisphere. The seeds are not borne within cones.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2007)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. del Hoyo, J., Eliot, A. and Sargatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. New Zealand Department of Conservation (January, 2008)
    http://www.doc.govt.nz/templates/podcover.aspx?id=32940
  4. BirdLife International (January, 2008)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=2749&m=0
  5. Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society (January, 2008)
    http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/dawnchorus/kereru.asp
  6. McEwen, W.M. (1978) The food of the New Zealand pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiaenovaeseelandiae). New Zealand Journal of Ecology, 1: 99 - 108.
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New Zealand pigeon  
New Zealand pigeon

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