Caught in the act - kereru (NZ pigeon) scoffing horoeka berries

I love pathways that get you up high and close to trees.  I was on one at the Arataki Visitors Centre in Auckland's Waitakere Ranges.  There you have a great view sweeping across bush towards the city and the Waitemata and Manukau harbours.  And there is a walkway that threads around some mature trees. 

As I walked along it I heard an odd sort of scrabbling sound coming from one of the trees - a horoeka or lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolius).   At first, there was nothing obvious to see - but then I caught a glimpse of large red claws, white feather pantaloons, and a back with purplish-green feathers.

A kereru (New Zealand pigeon)!  It's a large bird - weight around 650 grams, length 51 cms - so an awkward size for the rather slender branches it was perching on.  But the numerous berries were obviously of interest. 

It struggled a bit to get to them, and some gymnastics were required - stretching and balancing.  But it was intent on scoffing those little berries. 

The kereru is a frugivore - a fruit eater - but will also eat flower buds and leaves, depending on what is available.  With its big bill it is able to eat the large fruit and drupes of a number of native trees.  The flesh of the fruit is digested, but the seeds are not.  The subsequent dispersal of native tree seeds in pigeon poo, and thus native forest regeneration, depends on the kereru.  Drupes are stone fruit with flesh surrounding a seed protected with a hard shell - like a plum.  And alas for people growing them, the kereru apparently does like the plum.  

The kereru is just one of a number of native birds that disperse horoeka seeds - even the little silvereye can eat the small berries.  So the horoeka does not depend on the kereru.  I daresay smaller birds would cause less kerfuffle when they are feeding on the horoeka too.

Maybe it was a bit big for its perch, a bit clumsy in its maneouvres on the horoeka tree.  But what a handsome sight the kereru was as it emerged to inspect me!