Kakapo is a unique parrot, one of a kind. The attention of naturalists and animal advocates is drawn to it, since it is on the verge of extinction. Kakapo are interesting in that they willingly make contact with humans and behave very friendly, relative to many other wild birds. Let’s figure out why this parrot is unique.
Species origin and description
Kakapo is a rare parrot that belongs to the family Nestoridae (Nesterovye). The peculiarity of the Nesteroves is that they live only in New Zealand and include a fixed number of representatives that are under the threat of extinction:
- south island and north island kaka;
- Norfolk kaka, a completely extinct species. The last bird died at the London Home Zoo in 1851;
- kakapo, which is also on the verge of extinction;
- chatem kaka – according to scientists, this species became extinct around the 1700s . Its appearance is unknown, as only its remains were captured.
The Nesterov family are very ancient birds, the closest ancestors of which lived on Earth for 16 million years. The reason for the sharp extinction was the development of New Zealand lands: birds were caught as trophies, they were sport hunted. The destruction of their natural habitat also affected their numbers.
The Nesterov family is difficult to take root anywhere outside of New Zealand, so breeding them in reserves is very problematic. They got their names from the Maori tribes – the indigenous people of New Zealand. The word “kaka”, according to their language, means “parrot”, and “po” — night. Therefore, kakapo literally means “night parrot”, which is consistent with its nocturnal lifestyle.
Appearance and features
Kakapo is a large parrot whose body length reaches about 60 cm. The parrot weighs from 2 to 4 kg. The plumage is predominantly dark green with patches of dark yellow and black – this color provides the bird with camouflage in jungle conditions. Feathers on the kakapo’s head are predominantly white, elongated – due to their shape, the bird becomes more sensitive to nearby sounds.
The kakapo has a large gray curved beak, a short thick tail, short massive legs with big toes – it is adapted for fast running and jumping over small obstacles. The bird does not use wings to fly – it has lost the ability to fly in favor of running, so the wings have shortened and become the role of maintaining balance when the bird climbs high ground.
Interesting fact: Due to the white facial disc, these parrots are also called “owl parrots”, since the disc is similar to those of most species of owls.
Due to the loss of the ability to fly, the kakapo skeleton differs in structure from the skeletons of other parrots, including those from the Nesterov family. They have a small sternum with a low keel that is slightly shortened and looks underdeveloped. The pelvis is wide – this allows the kakapo to move efficiently on the ground. Leg bones are long and strong; the bones of the wings are short, but also compacted, compared to the bones of other parrots.
Male, as a rule, are larger than females, but they have no other differences from each other. The voice of males and females of kakapo is hoarse, croaking – males scream much more often and their sounds are usually louder. During the mating season, such “singing” can turn into an unpleasant squeal. But in most cases, kakapo are silent and calm birds that prefer a secretive lifestyle.
Interesting fact: Kakapos smell strongly, but their smell is quite pleasant – it resembles the smell of honey, beeswax and flowers.
Where does the kakapo live?
Kakapo can only be found among the islands of New Zealand. Most of the specimens are preserved in the Southwest of the South Island. Kakapo settles in the tropics, because its color is adapted to camouflage among dense green forests. It is difficult for a person to find kakapo, because they skillfully hide in bushes and tall grass.
Kakapo is the only parrot that burrows. Both males and females have their own burrows, which they dig out with massive strong paws. The tropical land is wet, but even in rare periods of drought, it will not be difficult for a parrot to rake dry ground with its claws. – a very peaceful bird that does not know how to defend and attack.
For burrows, kakapo choose the roots of trees or recesses in the bushes. The more secluded the place is, the better, because the kakapo hides in its holes during the day. Due to the fact that during the night the bird can walk several kilometers in search of food, it does not always have time to return to the hole from which it left during the day. Therefore, one individual kakapo, as a rule, has several minks.
The kakapo equip their holes with great attention: dry branches, blades of grass and leaves are dragged there. The bird prudently digs out two entrances to the hole so that, in case of danger, one can flee, so kakapo burrows are often short tunnels. For chicks, females often arrange their own bedroom, but sometimes, even without chicks, the kakapo digs two “rooms” in the hole.
Kakapo are difficult to take root anywhere except the islands of New Zealand. This is largely due to the flowering of certain plants, which stimulate the beginning of their mating season.
What does the kakapo eat?
Kakapo are exclusively herbivorous birds. The dacridium tree with its fruits is a favorite food of the kakapo. For the sake of fruits, birds are ready to climb to the tops of trees, using strong legs and occasionally flying from branch to branch.
Interesting fact: The mating season of kakapo often coincides with the flowering of dacrydium. Perhaps this is the reason for the unsuccessful breeding of birds in captivity.
In addition to tree fruits, kakapo feast on:
- flower pollen;
- soft parts of grass;
- soft roots.
Birds prefer soft food, although their beak is adapted for grinding hard fibers. Usually they soften any fruits or herbs with their beak to a mushy state, and then eat with pleasure.
After the kakapo has eaten any plants or fruits, fibrous lumps remain on the remnants of food – these are the places that the parrot chewed with its beak. It is from them that one can understand that a kakapo lives somewhere nearby. In captivity, the parrot is fed sweet food made from pressed vegetables, fruits, nuts, and herbs. Birds quickly get fat and willingly breed when they are full.
Now you know what the kakapo owl parrot eats. Let’s see how he lives in the wild.
Character and Lifestyle Features
Kakapos prefer to live far from each other, although their territories often overlap – even males are not aggressive towards other males. They are nocturnal birds, they come out of their holes in the evening and spend the whole night looking for food.
Kakapo are kind and sociable birds. They acquired such a character in the course of evolution, since they almost did not encounter natural predators in their habitat. They are ready to make contact, they are not afraid of people; Kakapo have recently been discovered to be playful and affectionate. They can become attached to a person, love to be stroked and are ready to beg for goodies. It is not uncommon for male kakapos to perform mating dances in front of zookeepers or naturalists.
Fun fact: Kakapos are long-lived parrots – they can live up to 90 years.
Birds are not adapted for active flight, but wings allow them to jump to great heights, climb trees and other hills. In addition, sharp claws and strong paws make them good climbers. From a height, they descend, spreading their wings – this allows them to land softly on the ground.
The only self-defense that the kakapo have mastered is camouflage and complete freezing. Realizing that an enemy is nearby, the bird freezes abruptly and remains motionless until the danger is removed. Some predators and people do not notice the kakapo if they remain motionless, because, due to the color, they merge with the environment.
In general, the bird travels about 8 kilometers per night. As a rule, they move slowly, rolling from side to side. But kakapo also run fast and deftly jump over obstacles thanks to their developed paws.
Social structure and reproduction
Like capercaillie, kakapo males begin to talk – make dull sounds, similar to rumbling. This sound is heard for several kilometers, which attracts females. Females go in search of a current male, and are able to travel long distances to find him.
The male makes sounds that attract females with the help of a special throat pouch. In order for the sound to spread as far as possible, it climbs on a hill – hills, stumps, trees. Under these hills, the male digs a hole into which he descends every night until he finds a female waiting for him there. Sometimes a male is there instead of a female, which causes small fights between the parrots, which end with the flight of one of the kakapo.
Having found a hole, the female sits in it and waits for the male to come down to her. At this time, she can make a shrill cry that attracts his attention. In general, the mating of the male lasts about three or four months, which is a record among the mating rituals of animals. If the female considers the male large enough, and his plumage is attractive and bright, then she will agree to mating.
The male seeks to impress the female: having descended into the hole, he performs ritual dances, which include turns on the spot, trampling, grunting and flapping wings. The female, having made a decision about the male, leaves for the nearest place suitable for the nest. The male at this time does not stop lekking – he returns to his hill and continues to call for females.
After the female kakapo builds a nest, she returns to the male she likes to mate, and then goes back to the nest. From January to March, she lays her eggs in a hole dug inside rotten trees and rotten stumps. Mandatory in such a nest are two entrances that form a tunnel. For about a month, the female incubates two white eggs, after which the chicks are covered with white fluff.
The chicks stay with their mother for a year until they grow up and get stronger. The female always remains near the nest, reacts to the slightest squeak of chicks. If they are in danger, the female closes them with her body and takes on a frightening appearance, trying to “swell up” to a large size. By the age of five, kakapos become capable of breeding themselves.
Natural enemies of kakapos
For thousands of years, kakapo had no natural enemies, and the population was maintained thanks to the rare breeding of these birds. But with the advent of European colonialists, much has changed – they brought predators to the islands of New Zealand, which began to rapidly reduce the bird population. Disguise and “fading” did not save them — the only defense mechanisms that the kakapo had.
Predators that decimated the parrot population:
- rats – they ruined kakapo clutches and killed chicks.
Cats and stoats smelled birds, so disguise did not save parrots. By 1999, mainly due to introduced predators, only 26 females and 36 males of these parrots remained on the islands.
Population and species status
Kakapo is listed in the Red Book, because these parrots are on the verge of extinction – there are only 150 of them left, although not so long ago the islands of New Zealand were densely populated by them. Before the development of the islands by Europeans, parrots were out of danger of extinction. Maori, the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, hunted these birds, but treated them with respect, and the caution and speed of kakapo allowed them to escape from any pursuer.
Before the arrival of Europeans, kakapo were exposed to another danger from developing Maori – deforestation. With the development of new means of cultivating the land, people began to cut down the forest for sowing sweet potatoes, which affected the population of parrots.
But scientists identify the main reasons due to which their population began to critically fall:
- the emergence of Europeans. They opened an active hunt for exotic birds. Kakapo meat was popular, as well as the birds themselves as live trophies, which were subsequently sold for settlement in houses. Of course, without proper care and the opportunity to reproduce, kakapo died;
- along with the Europeans, predators arrived on the islands – rats, dogs, cats, martens. All of them significantly reduced the population of kakapo, which could not hide from nimble nocturnal predators;
- rare breeding. Numerous rituals that occur extremely rarely do not contribute to an increase in the population. Sometimes the kakapo breeding season does not fall even once a year, which has a critical effect on the number of birds.
Since kakapo are difficult to breed in captivity, all security activities are aimed at providing birds with protection in nature.
To ensure that parrots lay eggs, do not lose their offspring and do not die themselves, people provide the following security measures:
- destroy rats, stoats and other predators that prey on kakapo, destroy clutches and destroy chicks;
- give the birds additional food so that the birds spend less time looking for food and have more mating games, take more care of their offspring and starve less. In conditions of satiety, females lay more eggs;
- since the kakapo is a little-studied parrot, scientists began to breed in captivity the closest relatives of kakapo – northern and southern kaku and kea, in order to get to know their way of life and behavior better. This will allow you to understand what contributes to the effective breeding of kakapo.
However, the chances of a population recovery are very small, parrots breed slowly and reluctantly. The kakapo is the only representative of the owl parrots, so there is no way to cross the kakapo with other species in order to preserve it at least partially.
So we met the kakapo, a unique and friendly parrot from New Zealand. Many things distinguish it from other parrots: the inability to fly for a long time, the terrestrial lifestyle, long mating games and gullibility. It remains to be hoped that the kakapo population will recover year after year, and nothing will threaten its numbers.