"NZ Birds (3): The Kakapo and other rare Parrots" South Island Travelogue by Kimi_the_Bear

South Island Travel Guide: 6,032 reviews and 16,243 photos

Apart from the funny keas there are several other species of parrots living in New Zealand. Most of them have become rare. The most endangered one is the kakapo, the biggest and the world's only flightless parrot. Without the control and survival programme of the DOC it would probably already be extinct.

Until people arrived in New Zealand the kakapo lived a happy life. But those people hunted him as did the animals those people brought into the country. And the kakapo was an easy prey: It is the only flightless parrot in the world and walked around in the woods without being afraid of anybody. This brought him close to extinction.

The kakapo is not only a beautiful but also a rather strange bird. It only breeds when the rimu trees produce a lot of fruit. Nobody knows how the kakapos find out when this happens. But they also eat other fruit - they are strict vegetarians. And they are nocturnal. Their Maori name "Kakapo" means "night parrot". Probably because of that they have cat-like whiskers, so they can get around in the woods without knocking against everything. As they have owl-like faces the kakapo is also called owl-parrot.

Here I am visiting Kakapo Suzanne and her foster chicks with the strange names W1 and W2. On this photo the chicks are 45 and 52 days old - and already quite huge, compared to me. So I was not surprised to learn that the kakapo also is the heaviest parrot in the world. Males can weigh up to 4kg. And as you can see, they have enormous feet and sharp beaks which allow them to climb up the trees.

I love the kakapos' soft green and yellow feathers which are a perfect camouflage in the woods. But this does not save them from being eaten as predators can find them easily because of their strong smell. So there has been no other way to save them from extinction but to take them to predator-free islands. But even there they are not totally safe as infections can kill them. But the DOC people and many volunteers who sacrifice a lot of time and work in protecting these parrots have succeeded to get their numbers up to more than 80.

The kakapo habitats provided by DOC are Ulva Island (off Stewart Island) and an island in Fiordland.

Mama insists that I say this photo is a montage. The photo was provided by DOC.

In the seventies and eighties of the 19th century red and yellow-crowned parakeets, also called Kakariki, were widely spread throughout New Zealand. But as they fed on grain and fruit they were considered as pests. Farmers shot them in thousands and orchardists trapped them. The destruction of the bush as well as the invasion of rats and mustelids gave them the rest. So today the red-crowned parakeet can only be found on predator-free islands, whereas the yellow-crowned parakeet can also be found in forests on the mainland.

On my visit to Tiritiri Matangi (near Auckland, in the Hauraki Gulf) I saw quite a lot of red-crowned parakeets. The stakes of flax were their absolutely preferred places, so I joined one of them there for a closer look.

As I did not meet any of the rare yellow-crowned parakeets in the forests, I
went to a wildlife park (Willowbank and Orana Park in Christchurch) and watched this beautiful bird from a hiding place. Kakariki breed well in captivity but it is only allowed to breed them with a permit from the Department of Conservation (DOC). Kakariki is the Maori word for green.

Here you can have a close look at a yellow-fronted kakariki.

I found it extremely nice that they provided such custom-carved little trunk seats for little bears at Mt. Bruce. From there I could watch all kinds of birds. We saw a lot of kaka, even far away from their main feeding place. And if we did not see them we could hear them... They are real chatter-boxes ;-)

The kaka looks very similar to the kea, just the colours are different. We saw some of them on a walk in the Nelson Lakes National Park. But the craziest place up to now has been Mt. Bruce...

Every afternoon at a certain time about 80 wild kaka fly to a feeding area at Mt. Bruce and check out what delicatessen they put out for them. I can tell you, it is strictly vegetarian, so not really my favourite kind of food...

There kaka fly around in such a rowdy manner that I jumped back into Mama's backpack and watched them from there.

  • Page Updated Oct 5, 2008
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