Pukekura Park - its ecology and history - Friends of Pukekura Park New Plymouth Inc.

An Urban New Zealand Pigeon Nest - the Sequel

In Miranda Naturalists’ Trust News 56 (February 2005) I mentioned that a young New Zealand pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) which had fallen from its nest on our urban property was taken to the local zoo at Brooklands Park in New Plymouth where it was still alive and doing well on 24 January 2005.

The immature pigeon ate well on various broken-up fruits and other items on which it was fed. It especially liked peas! However, its development was slow, and it was not until 12 May 2005 when it was almost 5 months old that it was flying well enough to be released in the vicinity of the zoo. It was not marked to enable individual recognition in the wild. However, the young lady who had very patiently raised the pigeon over the previous months noted it was unusual in that it had dark-feathered, not white-feathered, underparts.

Five New Zealand pigeons were active near the zoo when I visited that area on 24 August 2005. The tail of one of them had very short feathers on one side that did not seem to have developed properly. It had dark-coloured lower breast and belly feathers, but in all other respects looked like any other New Zealand pigeon. Shortly afterwards, while I was photographing it, this pigeon flew from its nearby perch and landed on my head where it remained for a few seconds before flying off. I concluded from this behaviour, and because of its unusual dark-coloured lower breast and belly, that this was the pigeon which had been hand-reared at the nearby zoo. It is the only New Zealand pigeon I have seen that has not had pure white lower breast and belly feathers. Presumably, the dark-coloured lower breast and belly of this pigeon, which are obvious in the accompanying photo, have something to do with the diet on which it was fed during the months it was being artificially reared. It is considered that diet may be a factor in cases of melanism and other plumage pigment abnormalities in birds.

After it departed my head, the pigeon flew to a nearby small tree from which it was able to reach and eat several large flower buds of an adjoining Aloe plicatilis. This is the only time I have seen a New Zealand pigeon eating the flower buds or flowers of any species of Aloe. When it had finished at the Aloe, the pigeon went to a large Magnolia x soulangeana where it spent several minutes eating flowers of that plant before flying off into nearby trees where I lost sight of it.

Until at least 23 November 2005 this pigeon, readily recognized by its dark-coloured lower breast and belly, visited the plant nursery adjacent to the zoo twice every day where it was fed by some of the staff who knew it as “Woody”. They observed that the pigeon was gradually losing the dark colouration of its lower breast and belly, and that all of its tail feathers had eventually developed properly. The nursery was closed down and its buildings removed soon afterwards, and I have no further records of the pigeon from there. However, my observations on 24 August 2005 indicate that it was able to fend for itself in the wild. Hopefully it is still doing so, but it may not be possible to distinguish it now from any other adult New Zealand pigeon.

David Medway

Reproduced, with permission, from Miranda Naturalists’ Trust News No. 66 (August 2007).

More Birds of the Park

Previous page: Birds of the Park
Next page: Ecology of the Park