Kea ~ Bird of the Year 2017

Beat the Kereru by a beak

By Cushla McGaughey

Found only in the South Island, the Kea is in fact the world’s only mountain parrot.

Its great intelligence and inquisitive nature has helped it to survive in the harsh environment of the Southern Alps, and also to earn a reputation for some very destructive behaviours!

Their natural diet includes insects, leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds and so many Kea die in winter. from starvation and cold.

They’ve learned to scavenge fat and meat from carcasses, but although they seldom attack healthy, living sheep, it was enough to set a Government bounty on their heads.

At least 150,000 Kea were killed before they became fully protected in 1986. Now Kea are an endangered species, reduced to about 2,000 breeding pairs.

Part of the parrot family

The Kea is our second largest parrot after the Kakapo, the world’s heaviest parrot.

From heaviest to smallest

While Kea and Kakapo are the largest parrots, our smallest, the New Zealand Parakeets or Kakariki, have a place name on the Kapiti Coast (Paekakariki).

Their green plumage matches tree foliage so closely that they are hard to see until they move. Consequently, their Maori name, ‘kakariki’, is also the Maori word for ‘green’.

Kakariki on Harakeke

Since 2005 the Red-crowned Parakeet has been on the Red List of globally threatened species. We used to see them along the banks of the Waikanae River. Sadly their niche in our neighbourhood has been hijacked by noisy Australian rosellas, descended from escaped cage birds.

But Red-crowned Parakeets still thrive on Kapiti Island, where they can safely feed on the forest floor. It is also safe for fledglings, which are fed on the ground when they first leave the nest. Harakeke is plentiful there too.

Kakariki enjoy the flowers, but best like drilling into the flax pods to extract the shiny black seeds.