At last! It’s official. Our kererū-friendly garden makeover has reached a major milestone: it has become such an inviting place that we’ve just welcomed its first ever (witnessed) kereru visitor.
And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, it happened on 1 October, in the middle of the annual Great Kererū Count project, meaning ‘our’ kererū could be officially logged into the effort that aims to help scientists build a better picture of where these native wood-pigeon are found, as well as where they are missing, across the entire county.
Our lone kererū visitor appeared well-fed and was a rather handsome specimen, perched high on a branch of the yet-to-bloom kowhai tree near our letterbox. My 4 year old daughter, who has been scanning the tree tops looking for kererū all week failed to see him or her because she was distracted by a noisy tui. And by the time I’d fished my phone out of my bag to take a photo, he/she had flown off in search of a new, possibly quieter, perch. But despite the lack of third party verification or documented evidence gathering, it was still a great sighting and one that we rushed inside to record on the kererucount.org.nz website.
This year the Great Kererū Count was shifted from autumn to coincide with the advent of spring, a time when the Kererū’s dramatic , swooping displays—designed to attract a mate—are evident. Now in its third year, this citizen science initiative (run by WWF’s Kererū Discovery Project and Forest & Bird’s Kiwi Conservation Club, supported by Wellington City Council) has really taken flight.
So why all the fuss about these birds in particular? Well, not only do they look beautiful with their distinctive deep green, purple and white feathers, but they play a vital role in restoring New Zealand’s native forest. Unlike other birds, they eat the fruit of our big forest trees such as tawa and miro, and disperse the digested seeds out the other end (to put it politely). Yet nature’s beautifully simple yet efficient seed distribution system has been disrupted as kererū populations have come under attack. Habitat loss and introduced pests such as possums, stoats and rats have taken their toll on this iconic bird, that was once so abundant it was seen in huge flocks in the Wellington skies.
Engaging New Zealanders to understand more about this special bird’s role in our ecosystem is a key part of what the Great Kererū Count seeks to achieve, along with the data collection that can inform conservationists about where their efforts are succeeding, and where more protection may be needed.
Every journey starts with a single step. And ours was planting kereru-friendly plants to attract the birds a year and a half ago. Today’s count of ‘one’ may not seem like a lot, but it is an important step on our journey to attract native wildlife and it’s one piece in the jigsaw puzzle showing where kererū live, that will help scientists ensure these amazing birds thrive.