David Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities in New Zealand

mayo for blogWood Pigeon

There are thousands of natural enemies.

Some you know about, like the cobra and the mongoose.

Some you don’t, like the Bichon Frisé (meaning in French curly lap dog) and the New Zealand Wood Pigeon or kerer (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae).

Until recent discoveries by Sir David Attenborough, there was nothing on record about the unlikely battle-to-the-death being fought by the Bichon and Wood Pigeon in New Zealand.

“What is most astonishing is that both species, left to themselves, are both beautiful and docile.  But when you put them together, something savage and unique begins to unfold — an epic battle to the death.”

The stunningly beautiful Wood Pigeon is about the size of a chicken.

Its wings make a distinctive “whooshing” sound, and its flight is quite distinctive, with the birds often ascending slowly before making impressively steep parabolic dives. 

Because of their large size, it was thought that the wood pigeon had no natural enemies in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

That may have been true from the beginning of time.  

But that all changed when a single Bichon (“Mayonaise”, or “Mayo” for short), was introduced by Hakka Chinese into the Moore Estate in Titirangi, which translates to the “Edge of Heaven” and is located at the foot of the Waitakere Ranges.

“When that single male Bichon was introduced,” according to Attenborough, “it’s fair to say that all hell broke loose Down Under.” 

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Regal Wood Pigeons spend their days high up in the towering Kauri and Rimu trees, sunning themselves, eating fruit and “somewhat haughtily” observing the goings-on around them.

In Spring, when the birds pair up for breeding, they can be found a bit closer to the ground while nesting.

But what catches the trained observer’s eye is not their nest-building; it’s their gymnastic ability and what some call their “Irish” behavior.

Springtime in New Zealand sees the Nikau Palm’s delicious berries become plentiful. 

They grow in bunches, just beneath the large palm fronds.

In early Spring, the Wood Pigeons can easily reach the succulent berries, and “life is good.”

Later, when only a few berries are left, the Wood Pigeons have to contort themselves, twisting and hanging upside-down by a single foot to grab the last of them.

At times, given just the right conditions, the berries ferment, which has a comical effect on the Wood Pigeons.

“They actually get drunk and drop to the ground like Irishmen,” says Attenborough.

Indigenous Maori say that there is nothing better to eat than succulent Wood Pigeons that have been gorging on Nikau Palm berries, which add a tangy taste to their flesh.

Perhaps this is what turned the normally sedate Bichon into a unique and clever predator — the Wood Pigeon’s greatest natural enemy in Titirangi.

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No one would have expected such of thing of the happy Bichon lap dog.

In his classic book The Good, the Bad and the Furry, Sam Stall writes:

“The average Bichon is good with children, tolerant of strangers, and gets along well with other dogs and non-canine pets. If someone broke into my house, the Bichon would bark and raise the alarm.  For obvious reasons, the Bichon can’t take out a burglar single-handedly (unless the burglar is two feet tall).”

True enough.

But, while a male Bichon might be of little consequence to a burglar, it’s a different story with the New Zealand Wood Pigeon.

The Bichon-Wood Pigeon battles are unique, totally different from the cobra-mongoose battles we have all seen on TV. 

The latter can be over in the blink of an eye. 

The former can take “what seems like an eternity”.

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Mother Nature didn’t gift the Bichon with the cobra’s deadly venom or the mongoose’s lighting-fast reflexes.

But she did give it astoundingly acute vision and the ability to detect even the slightest motion.

Once the male Bichon detects even the motion of a single Wood Pigeon feather, high, high up above, he stands on his hind legs and unleashes his mightiest weapon.

He barks.

And barks.

And barks.

“The Bichon barks for hours, or days, or weeks, seemingly without ever taking a moment to breathe.  It is quite simply the most amazing, and annoying, sound in all of the outdoors.”

Since precious few people have actually seen the epic Bichon-Wood Pigeon battle, or heard the Bichon’s relentness, staccato bark, it is easy to underestimate its power.

“In effect, the Bichon’s bark is like the Chinese Water Torture.”Drip after drip, bark after bark, it eventually drives the Wood Pigeon utterly mad.” 

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The huge bird suffers a brain aneurysm and falls off its branch or telephone wire. Or, as some experts believe, the Wood Pigeon simply loses its will to live and intentionally takes a suicidal leap.

Whichever is true, this leap or fall does not end the battle. Oh no. Far from it. 

“For you see, the Wood Pigeon’s brain seems to operate like a high-tech jet airplane.” 

When, say, a Boeing 787, experiences a dramatic loss of altitude, an alarm sounds and technology leaps into action, righting the plane with a burst of power and literally millions of aerodynamic adjustments. 

In the case of the Wood Pigeon, the alarm sounds in its comatose brain when the falling bird is about 5 feet off the ground, and the Bichon’s tiny sharp teeth.

“Something jump-starts the bird’s motors. It flaps its mighty wings once or twice and then roars away sounding very much like a military helicopter taking off. This would be an extraordinary story if it ended here.  But it doesn’t.”

After the Wood Pigeon recovers from the Bichon’s water-torture barking, it does not, as you would expect, develop a great fear of the small white dog.

Just the opposite.

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It seems to develop some evolutionary means of withstanding the Bichon’s barking for much longer periods of time. 

And from then on, it devotes its every waking hour to annoying the Bichon – forgoing fruits and berries, even mating.

The regal Wood Pigeon becomes intent on seeking revenge; on making the male Bichon actually bark himself to death, regardless of how long it takes.    

Which, simultaneously, drives the Bichon’s owner completely, and utterly, insane.

And thus ends what is one of the most remarkable battles of natural enemies.

“I’m David Attenborough.”


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2 Responses to “David Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities in New Zealand”

  1. This is awesome.

    Seriously awesome.


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