Hunchy pigeons and doves - A resurgent population - Part 2
  • Last updated:
  • 19 Nov 2019

Read Part 1 of this article in Bush Hands Edition 79

... If we wanted to bring back the pigeons, and their ability to disperse the fruit of rainforest trees, the answer was obvious. Plant more figs! Also of course research other food sources to develop a range of fruit bearing trees for seasonal as well as dietary diversity. A general revegetation program would provide links and corridors for safe movement and the opportunity for neighbours to cooperate.

Apart from the common sandpaper figs that attract smaller birds to insects hiding under their bark, many local fig species have been planted and pigeons and doves have increased in both numbers and diversity. Surveys have not been scientifically based, but some interesting observations have been made and the enjoyment of our bird life very much enhanced.

Neighbouring properties are now much more effectively linked along creek lines following removal of lantana, glycine and other weeds. Replacement trees and shrubs are now sufficiently established to develop a closed canopy. Movement corridors have been widened and links established between planted or remnant forest patches. Natural regeneration is taking place, much of it due to bird dispersal. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to train our birds not to disperse weed seeds as well! An irritating but small price to pay for the service otherwise provided.

And now for the important results of our observations:

The numbers of Brown cuckoo-doves have definitely increased. Numbers of Rose-crowned fruit-doves are probably static but they are still there in the gullies and seasonally feed on the larger figs. They possibly depend more on the Three-veined laurel, Cryptocarya triplinervis. A large remnant tree which grows beside a permanent creek and its fruit have been dispersed widely over the past few years. Three-veined laurel has changed its status from uncommon to common.

The delightful little Emerald dove is often seen feeding on the edges of forest patches, on the driveway where trees overhang, and numbers are increasing. Bar-shouldered doves wander quietly through native grasses under the canopy, drink from a low water dish and sunbathe on the edge of the lawn. They appear to favour certain parts of the property and are breeding. A pair of ground-feeding Wonga pigeons comes visiting from our neighbour’s property every so often; not common but they are about.

Topknot pigeons used to fly over in large flocks. Long-term residents say numbers are slowly returning but for the time being they may be more interested in local orchards and possibly camphor laurels. At least we see them. White-headed pigeons occasionally visit but are much more common around Montville where they may have become dependent on camphor laurel fruit. In time, as camphor laurels are removed, we hope they will come down into Hunchy more regularly to feed on the native figs and the fruit of several members of the laurel family.

Our last pigeon/dove is the beautiful Wompoo fruit-dove, which is more often heard than seen, but this year successfully raised a nestling in a flimsy structure built in a tall tree, right beside our neighbour’s drive. Numbers of this colourful bird regularly feed in a large remnant fig further down the valley but are now able, as a result of cooperative revegetation programs, to move up the valley to live and breed.

Our recorded species, some resident and some visitors, have gone from two to eight. Populations have clearly increased for three of these and no populations have decreased or disappeared. Rainforest seeds are being dispersed and the whole system appears to be healthier. Certainly there are birds in all directions and honeyeater numbers and diversity are another story. Targeted revegetation within the overall program can bring back what was there prior to clearing. It can never be exactly the same but it’s rewarding to try.

Footnote to Part 1:

Following the circulation of edition 79 of Bush Hands, I received a phone call from a member of one of the pioneer families around Mapleton who told me that in his childhood the dinner menu regularly included pigeon, wallaby and even brush turkey. This was around the 1930’s and of course prior to refrigeration, so any meat had to be fresh. Later shooting was more indiscriminate (young men) and only the breast meat was stripped from the birds. This had a big effect on the topknot pigeon population as they roosted in large numbers in single trees and were easily killed.

I need to read a recent history of the Smith family by Cate Patterson (nee Smith). They were pioneers in the Montville district and apparently some of the hunting for food is documented in her book. The habitat loss I wrote about certainly would have had an effect but shooting also took its toll.

Article by Joan Dillon Image by Eric Anderson