The large forest pigeon.

English name: Wood pigeon

Māori name: Kererū, kukupa

Scientific name: Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae

NZ Status: Endemic (found only in New Zealand)

Conservation Status (NZTCS): Not Threatened

Found: Widespread throughout North and South Island

Threats: Predation, habitat loss

Did you know? The kererū is vital to the dispersal of several native tree species because it is now the only surviving bird able to swallow the largest drupes (stone fruits) of the karaka, miro, tawa and taraire.

Wood Pigeon
Photo Credit: Brendon Doran

New Zealand pigeons (kererū) are members of the pigeon genus Hemiphaga, which is endemic to the New Zealand archipelago and Norfolk Island. Kererū are very typically pigeon-shaped in that they have a relatively small head, a straight soft-based bill, and a plump, puffed-out breast. Its head, throat, upper breast and back are a metallic green flecked with bronze and a purple sheen. Its belly is a pure white and its eye, beak and feet crimson red. Juveniles have a similar colouration but are generally paler with dull colours for the beak, eyes and feet and a shorter tail.

Kererū can be very quiet birds and often the first time you are aware of them is when you hear a sudden loud “woosh woosh” overhead, as a pigeon flies off from a perch where it has been sitting unseen. In spite of their size they are skilled fliers, especially in spring when aerobatic displays of steep curving dives and spectacular loop-the-loops make up part of their mating rituals.

Apart from emperor penguins and flamingos, pigeons and doves are the only birds to produce food for their chicks. They feed their chicks, called squabs, crop-milk, a protein rich, cottage cheese like secretion from the crop wall. At first crop milk is the only food given to the chick but as it grows regurgitated foods form an increasingly large share of the diet.

The Maori names for wood pigeon include kererū, kūkū and kūkupa; are of which are onomatopoeic - meaning the name tends to mimic the quite cooing sounds they make.

Ten kererū were released into ZEALANDIA between 2002 and 2005 following treatment for injuries - most of which were sustained from flying into windows. Before this, kererū were rare visitors to the sanctuary. The first successful nesting attempt within the valley was in 2005, and since this time kererū numbers have continued to increase. Kererū are important residents of the sanctuary because of the vital role they play in dispersing  the seeds of certain trees, like tawa - the fruits of this tree often grow too big to be dispersed by other birds.

Kererū are vulnerable to predators and hunting and are slow breeders, laying only one egg at a time.  For this reason they have suffered serious declines in the past, but better pest control in certain areas has helped to improve local populations.

Look for them: Display dives by breeding pairs are now frequently seen, especially on the western side of the lower lake, and there are regular sightings of kererū alongside Lake Rd especially in spring when they feed on the young shoots of broom and tree lucerne.   They also forage outside ZEALANDIA, being often seen flying to and from neighbouring suburbs and the Botanic Gardens.


Heather, B. & Robertson, H. (2000). Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand.

Oliver, W.R.B. (1955). New Zealand Birds