Kererū Pigeon: New Zealand’s (Drunk) Bird of the Year 2018

Kererū Pigeon
A kererū pigeon.

After our piece on pigeons the other week, we were surprised to find New Zealand’s Bird of the Year 2018 competition threw up this unusual winner: the kererū pigeon!

What’s so interesting about this winged wonder? Well, the wood pigeon often gets inebriated after dining on fruit. This makes their behaviour a bit erratic. Coo!

Behold the Glory of the Kererū Pigeon

The New Zealand pigeon (in Māori it’s the kererū pigeon) is a large fruit bird. You may notice they have a really dinky head, but a pretty massive body.

That makes them look peculiar. But they’re also distinctive from your more regular city pigeons as they’re a pretty wild mishmash of greens and purple-like hues.

Kererū pigeon beak
Thanks to Judi Lapsley Miller for this excellent image.

But they’ve found themselves at the centre of international press stories during the week. Why? The Bird of the Year organisation awarded it this status and had this message for the winner:

“With a whoosh-whoosh, the kererū, also known as the kūkū, kūkūpa, or wood pigeon, has swooped to glory for Bird of the Year (Te Manu Rongonui o Te Tau) 2018. While the kererū population is classed as stable overall, it is in danger of becoming locally extinct in some areas where there has not been sustained predator control. The fate of many forests is linked to that of the kererū, as it’s the only native bird big enough to swallow and disperse the large fruit of karaka, miro, tawa and taraire.”

But the bit of information that won many people from around the world over is this – the bird’s drinking habits. During the summer, the pigeons often overindulge on bumper summer crops of fruit.

They do this to such an extent they get visibly drunk. This can sometimes cause them to fall out of trees. Although, frankly, from the below clip it looks like that one is having a good laugh.

What happens is, when the weather gets warm and they eat a large amount of ripe fruit, it can actually ferment in the bird’s crop (part of the pigeon’s digestive tract).

This then turns into a mild form of alcohol. With their diminutive stature, it’s enough for the kererū pigeon to get a bit wasted.

Some statistics we dug up showed that 60 pigeons ended up in various bird sanctuaries during 2010 (due to drunken mishaps).

So it’s hardly an epidemic scale disaster, but they clearly need warning about the dangers of binge drinking.

Contrary to popular belief, pigeons are smart birds – so a leaflet campaign should be enough to steer them back on the right track.

Pigeons being pretty comical with their behaviour, in general, can only get more adorable when wasted, surely?

Well, in New Zealand local authorities have taken to putting up road signs warning drivers of the dangers of these under-the-influence birds.

Not that they’re permanently drunk, of course, as you can see this well-behaved one above. They seem most excellent to us.


  1. A Kereru flapped across my back yard the other day, with that peculiar squeak-squeak noise they make as they fly. It perched on the power lines outside, sagging them, but before I could grab my camera to photograph it the fat little sucker flew off again. It’s been great to get native birds reappearing in suburban areas – I’ve also seen a tui and (heard but not seen) a morepork, the native owl – not bad for a major city in New Zealand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve heard it’s a “whoosh-whoosh” noise. However, I’m not from New Zealand. I can’t comment. The pigeons we have in Manchester – the grrey ‘uns – aren’t drunk. But they do have a diet of McDonald’s leftovers. Nice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a really odd sound – there’s definitely a ‘whoosh’ component but it’s also got quite a high-frequency ‘squeak’ in time with the wing-beats. (Mind you, they get pretty tipsy on their diet here & if I’d just sunk 48 pints of lager I might make some odd noises too…) I found this, which is low-fi and doesn’t quite capture the dimensionality of the sound in life, but gives a bit of a handle on it:

        Liked by 1 person

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