Rupe risk it for the biscuit

As published in the Cook Islands News 18th September 2021, by Alanna Smith. Photo credit Rudy Heijmen

Native to the Cook Islands and across the Pacific, the Rupe is found on most southern group islands as well as Palmerston, Pukapuka and Manihiki. The Rupe or Lupe pronounced in Pukapuka (Pacific Pigeon, Ducula pacifica) is a local favourite bird to admire for its forest green and grey colours.  It is also a local delicacy on some of our islands.

Recently, Rupe have been seen in high numbers, particularly around the Takitumu area, flying between trees, swooping across incoming traffic or resting on trees coo-ing away.

Rupe have adapted pretty well to the developed residential areas of Rarotonga. Using the manmade powerlines as regular resting spots, as well as taking a liking to the increased number of ornamental palms such as the Queen Palm Syagrus romanzoffiana and the Manilla Palm Veitchia merrillii planted around accommodations and homes.

The berries of these palms are a foodie favourite for the Rupe. It is possible that an increase in ornamental food supply around residential areas is contributing to the rise in Rupe numbers we now see today.

Normally seen up high in trees, people have been saying they have seen Rupe closer to the ground and even at ground level, possibly feeding on fallen berries.

Another observation includes seeing a Rupe feeding on Rauti seeds (Cordyline Cordyline fruticosa) as low as 1 m off the ground.  A dangerous feeding option in a prime kill zone for preying cats.

Whether the Rupe are feeding so low to the ground because of low food supply in the taller trees. Or maybe the heavy weighted contender has simply become more confident at the ranges in which they choose to feed at?

Just recently I noticed that the thrill-seeking nature of the Rupe got itself into a bit of trouble. For the first time I saw a cat had gotten a hold of a Rupe on the side of the road. I had missed how the initial attack had happened but the Rupe must have been pretty low to the ground for the agile feline to get its paws into the bird.

The Rupe attack was a reminder of the predator instincts cats have. There’s plenty of chickens for cats to have a go at. But curiosity must set in when cats see something uncommon and of approachable size. It’s all systems go.

I wonder if the Rupe has gotten too complacent at the ranges it choses to feed, rest and fly at? Has limited food at the higher elevated areas forced the rupe to feed at lower ranges? Or is the Rupe simply willing to risk it for the biscuit when it comes to snacking at treats from below?

Observations from nature are always so interesting. Especially at a time where our environment is changing so quickly through increased development and temperature changes affecting habitat and food supply.

A good reminder to stay alert, aware and in tune with your surroundings and the environment that we share.