Ngāpuhi Runanga chair Raniera "Sonny" Tau says he has made a mistake that he deeply regrets, after being found with five dead kererū.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) has confirmed it is investigating allegations Mr Tau tried to smuggle the native wood pigeons from Invercargill to Northland.
He was reported to have been found with the birds under his jacket.
There are two species of native pigeon: the kererū, and the more threatened Chatham Islands pigeon - the parea.
Although the native pigeon was traditionally hunted for its meat and feathers, that is now illegal.
Kererū, or kukupa, are a protected species under the Wildlife Act 1953, DOC said.
It said the maximum penalty for being caught hunting the bird was a $100,000 fine and/or imprisonment of two years.
Mr Tau has released a statement admitting there was an incident on Tuesday last week in which he was questioned by a DOC officer about kererū in his possession.
"It is important to note that no charges over regulatory breaches have been laid at this point, therefore it is inappropriate for me to comment further on this matter," he said.
"I wish to assure you I did, and will continue to, fully cooperate with any investigation. I also wish to say this was a mistake, which I deeply regret. The laws around native bird protection are important and to be respected by all, myself included."
Reaction to allegations
Meanwhile, at Parliament, politicians have been weighing in with their concerns.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was unequivocal in his views on whether the pigeons should have been taken.
"Various laws apply and if proven there will be serious consequences," he said. "They're a protected species and one of our most rare ones."
Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said it was not uncommon for people to have a kōrero about eating the native bird.
"I've heard of people talk about the notion of eating kererū. It's often discussed on a number of marae, depending on where you are in the country... But I haven't participated in taking or having any kererū."
Mr Flavell said Māoridom would wait before any judgements were made.
"We always say leave it for our own people to make judgement on ourselves, so we have to leave it for that course to follow."
The chief executive of Te Rūnanga ā Iwi o Ngāpuhi, Allen Wihongi, issued a statement this afternoon saying no criminal charges had been laid at this point, but Mr Tau had assured him that he would fully co-operate with any investigation.