Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pigs Do Fly

This is the laziest bird I've ever encountered:

"i'm not moving.  you can't make me move."

It's a wood pigeon.  He was hanging out in a cabbage tree in our front yard.  I walked within 8 meters/ 25 feet of him and took a picture of him; he looked at me.  I walked within 5 meters/ 15 feet of him; he ate a few more berries.  I walked right up under the cabbage tree; he turned his rear end toward me.  I extended my hand and took a picture.

He pooped.

Fortunately he missed, but I was again surprised by how placid and nonchalant most New Zealand birds seem to be.  This is what millions of years of evolution without humans, much less any other land mammals, will produce.

"how do i look from this angle?"

Wood pigeons, or kereru in Maori, is beautifully colored in gem-tones of emerald, amethyst, ruby, and sapphire, with a cream white belly and a perfectly round, sunset-colored eye.  Very pretty.  They're quite large, and they seem like they'd be dense and heavy and very nice to hold in your lap, like a cat.  When they jump off a branch to fly, usually the branch moves and they do not, not until they flap their wings hard to keep their large bodies afloat.

But I'm not writing about kereru because they're cute, fat birdies, even though I do like me some cartoonishly adorable, chubby birds.

"and how about this?"

Remember how New Zealand has no native land mammals?  Land mammals play an important role in forest regeneration where they are present.  They are large enough and have a strong enough sweet tooth that they can consume large tree fruits--including seeds.  The mammals disperse through a forest or field and defecate out the tree seeds. It's a very effective method of forest growth and regeneration.

Wood pigeons are a key species in the regeneration of native bush in New Zealand.  With the extinction of other large native birds, like the moa, the wood pigeon is the only remaining bird capable of swallowing large tree seeds from trees like puriri (in summer and autumn), miro (in autumn and winter), and taraire (in winter and spring).  They can eat the fruits and seeds of at least 70 species, and they have an average feeding territory of around 25 square kilometers/ 10 square miles.  And they can eat a lot!

om nom nom...  nom nom nom nom nom nom nom...

Sadly, wood pigeon numbers are declining.  Wood pigeons lay only one egg in a clutch and have a low rate of reproductive success.  Introduced mammalian species, such as possum and rats, compete with the birds for food.  They also will prey on eggs and nestlings.  Wood pigeons are traditionally hunted by Maori.  Hunting restrictions were in place as early as 1864, with full protection since 1921, but some still claim a traditional right to harvest the bird.  The disappearance of the wood pigeon would make it that much more difficult for the native bush (forest) to regenerate.  This is ecology:  the web of interconnections.

I feel very lucky that one of my neighbors, who I get to see regularly, is the threatened wood pigeon!

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