New Zealand’s endemic kererū, with its large iridescent-green feathered wingspan, and smart white vest, are a much-loved subject for nature photographers across the country.
They’re spotted in our own backyards, too. Commonly referred to as the New Zealand pigeon, they tend to be a rather familiar sight; with a widespread distribution through the country, they’re seen native forest, rural habitats, and even urban areas — including most cities.
The humble kererū is one of New Zealand’s most valuable assets when it comes to our native forests. Known as ‘gardeners of the skies’, they play a crucial role in dispersing seeds from those native trees with large fruit, such as tawa, taraire and matai. No other mainland bird is so well equipped to fulfil this function, making the species essential for forest regeneration.
So, it’s with good reason that the Great Kererū Count is about to take flight, with New Zealanders across the country being asked to look up in order to build a comprehensive picture of where our native pigeon is — and isn’t — found. The count, which has been going since 2011, saw 5880 observations and 11,990 kererū counted last year.
The 2017 Count will run from Friday, September 22 to Sunday, October 1.
The information collected from this nation-wide ‘citizen science’ project will be used by conservationists to better protect kererū and to help save our native forests.
Tony Stoddard, Great Kererū Count Coordinator, is encouraging everyone to take part by counting the kererū in backyards, schools, parks, or reserves.
“Kererū 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,” Tony says.
“Whether you see any kererū 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.”
This year, there are three options to make kererū observations — via greatkererucount.nz, naturewatch.org.nz, or with the iNaturalist App available on iTunes and Google Play. An online map showing all sightings and a ticker with the number of birds reported will be updated automatically as the count progresses.
Dr Stephen Hartley, Senior Lecturer in Ecology from Victoria University of Wellington, explains the scientific significance of the project: “In the first few years we are building up a detailed picture of how kererū are distributed across the country, what they are 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,” Stephen says.
“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 kererū in this time, that’s still useful information and important to submit.”
Michele Frank, Head of Conservation Projects from WWF-New Zealand, says that given the ecological importance of kererū, Great Kererū Count data was critical, not just for protecting this species, but for ensuring the vitality of our forest ecosystems for future generations. “Large flocks of more than 100 kererū were once a common sight in skies over New Zealand — our vision is to see them again.”
The Great Kererū Count is a partnership between Kererū Discovery, WWF-New Zealand, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington City Council, and NatureWatch NZ. For more details, visit the Kererū Discovery Facebook page.