Larger and heavier than its mainland cousin, the parea or Chatham Island pigeon is today largely confined to the south-western corner of Chatham Island. Like several other Chatham species the parea had a close brush with extinction, with the population dropping to 40-45 birds in 1989. Fortunately, the protection of habitat and the control of predators has seen a dramatic recovery of the species and a 2009 census estimated the population to be around 600 birds.
Parea were common on Chatham, Pitt and adjacent islands in the 1870’s, however the clearing of forest and introduction of predators and compeditors saw them restricted to a small area in the south-west of Chatham Island by the 1970’s. The remaining areas of forest were in poor condition and being further degraded by feral sheep, cattle, pigs and possums. Those remaining birds had to cope with three species of introduced rat along with feral cats and nest-raiding possums. Despite the advantage of being long-lived species (>30 years), parea place themselves at a disadvantage with predators by spending considerable time grazing and occasionally nesting on the ground.
The biggest factor in the survival of the parea is the protection of habitat areas and in particular the donation of the Tuku Nature Reserve to the country by Manuel and Evelyn Tuanui in 1983. Bruce and Liz Tuanui along with other landowners have continued that tradition by covenanting further areas of forest important to parea and other species. The fencing of these areas and the removal of stock has enabled the forests to begin regeneration and has been aided by possum control. Control of rats and cats by covenant owners and by the Department of Conservation in the Tuku reserve has improved breeding success and reduced adult mortality.
A bright outook
In recent years parea sightings away from the SW corner have started to be more common, with sightings reported acropss the island. As forest in protected areas recovers and the area under predator control expands the parea population will continue to expand. Cat control on Pitt Island currently underway and it is likely that parea will soon be returned there via a translocation lead by the Pitt Island community.
The increasing population and better prospects for the species is likely to see the threat ranking of the species lowered at the next review.
- Aikman, H. & Miskelly, C., 2004. Birds of the Chatham Islands, Department of Conservation, Wellington.
- Dilks, Peter; Powlesland, Ralph; Adams, Lynn and Flux, Ian., 2010. Changes in abundance of parea (Chatham Islands pigeon, Hemiphaga chathamensis), 1994-2009. Notornis, 57, pp.156-161.