By Tony Stoddard

By Tony Stoddard

The Great Kererū Count is about to take flight, with New Zealanders across the country being asked to keep their eyes on the skies to help build up a comprehensive picture of where our native pigeon is – and isn’t – found.

The annual count runs from Friday 16th to Sunday 26th of September.

Kererū are known as the “gardeners of the skies” as they play a crucial role in dispersing seeds from the largest fruit of our native trees 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.

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, WWF-New Zealand’s 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,” Mr Stoddard said.

“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 we have three options for you to make your kererū  observations – via http://greatkererucount.nz or with the iNaturalist App available on iTunes and Google Play.

“To make kererū counts, people can use a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone – whatever works best for for the observer,” he said

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,” Dr Hartley said.

“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.”

A map of last year’s observations can be found via the Great Kererū Count 2016 website.

Michele Frank, Head of Conservation Projects from WWF-New Zealand, said 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,” Ms Frank said.

The Great Kererū Count is a partnership between WWF-New Zealand, Kererū Discovery, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington City Council, and NatureWatch NZ.