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The Great Kererū Count
Louise Slocombe

The Great Kererū Count

22 September - 1 October

The Great Kererū Count is starting soon! From 22 September to 1 October, thousands of New Zealanders will be taking part in this citizen science project by recording their sightings of kererū.

I met up recently with Tony Stoddard, who runs Kererū Discovery and the Great Kererū Count. He explained how this annual survey, funded by WWF-NZ, Wellington City Council and supported across New Zealand, helps to build up a picture of where kererū populations are doing well and where they are not. Kererū are creatures of habit, visiting the same areas for food and nesting every year - if they are absent from places where they have been sighted in previous years, this can be a sign that a local population may be in decline. After the Christchurch earthquake for example, kererū disappeared from the city, although thankfully it seems they are starting to return.


Photo Credit: George Hobson

One thing I discovered very quickly about Tony is that he loves kererū. “My family think I’m kererū crazy,” he told me. Besides being beautiful birds, with individual personalities and complex social networks, kererū are great for connecting people with nature, he says, because it is easy to get close to them. “Kererū are sitting on the wire outside your house when you go out.”

Apparently if you coo to them, they will even start cooing back to you. I tried doing this, but the kererū flew away. I think I need to work on my technique.

Tony explained that kererū are vital for the health of New Zealand’s native forests. Since the extinction of the huia and the piopio, kererū  are the only birds left that can disperse the seeds of many of our larger trees. So a decline in kererū numbers is bad news not only for kererū but also for native trees. Kererū populations are very vulnerable to possums. They are slow breeders and only lay one egg at a time in untidy, fragile nests - the loss of a single egg to a rat, stoat or possum could mean the loss of a breeding season for a pair of kererū . Predator control, as well as planting the trees that kererū feed on, makes a huge difference.

Photo Credit: Brendon Doran

Although it will take some years for the Great Kererū Count to build up a fully reliable set of data,  the results so far – analysed by a team at Victoria University - look promising. Wellington is a star performer – the city has seen the largest kererū population increase in New Zealand. ZEALANDIA has been a catalyst for this, aided by the tireless work of community conservation groups across the city. Kererū are doing particularly well in the ‘green corridor’ from ZEALANDIA through to Otari-Wilton’s Bush and beyond, as well as in the Hutt Valley - and kererū have recently returned to the Miramar peninsula.

A defining moment for Tony recently was seeing a flock of sixty kererū flying over Khandallah Park, heading for some Pūriri trees – he watched as the birds kept coming overhead one after another “like bombers”, for a full fifteen minutes. Flocks of up to 200 birds would once have been a common sight in New Zealand, and it is exciting to think that these ‘mega flocks’ could return to our skies.

Wellington’s urban environment can also create problems for kererū. Sadly, car strike seems to be on the increase. Kererū find it hard to gain height quickly and often fly into the path of cars when they have been feeding in roadside vegetation. Wilton Road near Otari-Wilton’s Bush is a particular blackspot, as is SH2 in the Hutt Valley. Tony has been developing roadsigns to warn motorists of the risk. Window strike is another problem, and you can buy window decals from Tony’s Kererū  Discovery website. The Nest Te Kōhanga at Wellington Zoo have a number of injured kererū that are slowly being nursed back to health, and Tony encourages anyone who finds an injured bird to contact The Nest Te Kōhanga, the SPCA or a local vet (vets will take in injured wildlife free of charge).

The more people who take part in the Great Kererū Count, the better the data will be. Kererū are easy to spot at the moment, feeding on new shoots of broom, willow, and poplar which provide them with the nitrogen that they need for egg-laying. And it’s very simple to record your sightings (and add photos) via the website, or using the naturewatch app – for more information, go to:  https://www.greatkererū count.nz.

You can also share kererū sightings, photos and stories all year round on the Kererū Discovery facebook page, which is a great way of learning more about these beautiful birds.

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