A native green and bronze wood pigeon with a taste for fermented fruit has been named the 2018 bird of the year in New Zealand.
The kererū is endemic to the country and can be found in both the North and South islands, living in cities as well as rural areas. Although quiet and reclusive by nature, kererū have earned a reputation as the drunkest bird in New Zealand, and been known to fall from trees after consuming rotting fruit left lying on the ground. During the summer when fruit is in abundance drunk kererū are sometimes taken to wildlife centres to sober up.
Described by conservation group Forest and Bird as “clumsy, drunk, gluttonous and glamorous,” the Kererū population is not endangered, but is vulnerable to attacks by predators such as feral cats and stoats, and also competes with possums for food.
Kererū play a vital role in dispersing the seeds of native New Zealand species such as karaka, miro, tawa and taraire across large areas, because they are one of the few birds large enough to swallow the fruit whole.
It was the clear leader in the poll, with 5,833 votes. The kākāpō came second with 3,772 and the Kakī or black stilt, an extremely rare bird that is raised by hand, coming third with 2,995 votes.
The competition, organised by Forest and Bird, is in its 14th year, and pits the country’s rare and endangered birds against one another. No bird has won twice, and this year saw the highest voter turnout on record, despite 2,000 votes being discarded after they were found to be fraudulent and originating from Australia.
More than 48,000 votes were cast this year, up from 41,000 in 2017.
Overseas celebrity endorsements from Stephen Fry for the kākāpō, and comedian Bill Bailey for the takahē upped the stakes in this year’s competition, with bird of the year also featuring on Tinder for the first time, with Shelly the kakī, or black stilt, attracting 500 matches across the country.
Although she voted for the black petrel (tāiko), prime minister Jacinda Ardern quickly offered the kererū her congratulations.
“The kererū is one of our most recognisable birds, it is often heard before it is seen,” Forest & Bird’s Megan Hubscher told Radio NZ. “It is one of our few birds that is doing OK. Only one in five of New Zealand’s native birds are increasing in number or stable, 80% are decreasing. But the kererū is doing pretty well.”
Hubscher said there were some regions of the country where kererū was not doing well – including Northland – and this was largely down to poor predator control.
However in other parts of the country where populations are thriving – such as the capital city of Wellington – road signs warn motorists to be careful because of flying kererū, which can cause serious damage because of their size and weight.
Kererū used to be hunted for their meat and feathers, but they are now protected and it is illegal to hunt them.
Some Māori tribes are given permission by the department of conservation to use the bones and feathers of kererū for cultural reasons, and reports of the birds being eaten for special occasions arise occasionally.
There are 168 bird species in New Zealand and about a third are threatened with extinction, with dozens more on the endangered list. Some species have dwindled to a few hundred individuals tucked away in isolated pockets of the country.
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