Birds of the Week: New Zealand Parakeets

Parrots

By Cushla McGaughey

Red-crowned Parakeets

Our largest parrot, the nocturnal kakapo, weighs up to 2.1 kg. Our smallest parrots, the New Zealand Parakeets, weigh only 40 to 80 gm.

The Yellow-crowned Parakeet is unique to New Zealand, but the larger Red-crowned Parakeet is also found in New Caledonia and on Norfolk Island.

Although the two species have been known to interbreed, the conservation goal is to avoid hybrids by fostering their different habitat preferences.

Parakeets yellow and red

Yellow-crowned Parakeets extend their range into higher altitude forests. They also occupy a higher niche in the trees and are less inclined to feed on or near the ground.

Found in both North and South Island forests, they are particularly common in South Island beech forests, feeding on seeds, buds, shoots, leaves and insects in the upper canopy of tall trees.

Yellow-crowned Parakeet on a rata tree

Red-crowned parakeets are occasionally seen in mature North Island forests, but prefer the margins of low-altitude forests, rivers and coastal areas.

They have a similar diet to that of the Yellow-crowned Parakeet, but often forage on the forest floor or low shrubbery. Through competition for safer sites, they sometimes nest in cliff crevices, among rocks or in burrows, and fledglings are at first fed on the ground. These habits make Red-crowned Parakeets particularly vulnerable to introduced predators.

However, predator-free island sanctuaries such as Kapiti Island assure the species survival.

Rats, known to attack sitting birds, eggs and nestlings, were eradicated from Kapiti in 1996.