Kea is a native New Zealand bird. It is also known as the New Zealand mountain parrot, which is the only true alpine parrot in the world. The kea was crowned New Zealand's bird of the year, and more than a thousand votes were cast for the species than there were left of its surviving specimens. The kea is currently endangered.

Species origin and description

Photo: Kea

Photo: Kea

The kea (Nestor notabilis) is endemic to the Southern Alps of New Zealand and is the world's only mountain parrot. These sociable and highly intelligent birds are well adapted to harsh environments. Unfortunately, the traits that the kea has developed for survival, its curiosity and omnivorous appetite, have created conflict with humans over the past 150 years. Persecution and predation are extremely depleting the kea population, and with only a few thousand birds left, kea — it is an endangered national species.

Video: Kea

Kea — a large parrot with mostly olive green feathers deepening to deep blue at the wingtips. On the underside of the wings and at the base of the tail, the streaks are reddish-orange. Kea females are slightly smaller than males and have shorter bills.

Fun Fact: Many other native birds in New Zealand do not fly, including the kea's relative, the kakapo. Unlike them, kea can fly very well.

Their name is onomatopoeic, referring to their loud, shrill call “keee-aaa”. That's not the only noise they make — they also talk more quietly to each other, and the juveniles make various squeals and cries.

Kea are very smart birds. They learn impressive feeding skills from their parents and other older birds, and become very proficient with their beaks and claws. As their environment has changed, the kea have learned to adapt. Keas are very curious and love to learn new things and solve puzzles. A recent study showed how these smart birds can work as a team to achieve their goals.

Appearance and Features

Photo: What a kea looks like

Photo: What a kea looks like

Kea &# 8212; strong flying large parrot about 48 cm long and weighing 0.8-1 kg, widespread in the mountains of the South Island of New Zealand. This bird is mostly olive green with brilliant orange underwings and has a large, narrow, curved, grey-brown upper bill.

An adult kea has this appearance:

  • bronze-green upperparts;
  • lower back dull red extending to upper tail coverts;
  • feathers edged with black, giving a scaly appearance to plumage;
  • underparts brownish-olive;
  • wing liners orange-red, with a yellow and black stripe extending to underparts of feathers;
  • outer feathers are blue and underfeathers dull yellow;
  • bronze-green head;
  • blackish beak with long, arched, deeply hooked upper jaw;
  • the eyes are dark brown with a thin yellow eye ring;
  • the paws and feet are bluish-gray;
  • the female is similar to the male, but has a shorter beak, with a less curved hand, and she is smaller than the male.

Interesting fact: The most common kea call is — it is a long, loud, high-pitched scream that can sound like a broken “kee-ee-aa-aa” or a continuous “keeeeeaaaa”. The sound of juveniles is less tonally stable, more like a loud scream or squeal.

Although keas are known for their vocal imitative abilities, they are rarely investigated, and their function (including mimicking sounds, produced by other species, or even inorganic sounds such as wind) has not been studied in parrots at all. The kea is a member of the oldest branch of the tree parrot family, the New Zealand parrot.

Interesting fact: Olive green birds are very smart and playful, earning themselves the nickname “Clown of the Mountains”. New Zealanders are not used to bird pranks, which include opening garbage cans to get greasy food, stealing items from wallets, damaging cars, and literally stopping traffic.

Where does the kea live?

Photo: Kea in New Zealand

Photo: Kea in New Zealand

Native to New Zealand, the kea is a protected species and the only alpine parrot in the world &# 8212; they are of particular interest to New Zealand. Kea are found only in the mountains of the South Island of New Zealand. Kea can be found in the mountains of the southern Alps, but they are more common on the western side. Kea can live in captivity for 14.4 years. Lifespan in the wild has not been reported.

Kea lives in high-slope forests, steep wooded valleys, steep mountains, and forests on the fringes of subalpine scrub, at altitudes between 600 and 2,000 meters. It may occasionally descend into lower valleys. In summer, the kea lives in the highland bushes and alpine tundra. In autumn, it moves to higher areas to eat berries. In winter, it sinks below the timber.

Interesting fact: Kea parrots prefer to spend their time on the ground, entertaining people with jumping movements. However, when they are in flight, they are excellent fliers.

Kea like to enter buildings in any way they can, even down chimneys. Once inside the buildings, nothing is sacred, if it's something that can be chewed, they will try to do it.

What does a kea eat?

Photo: Predatory Kea Parrot

Photo: Predatory Kea Parrot

Kea are omnivorous, they feed on a wide range of plant and animal foods. They feed on trees and clean out shoots, fruit, leaves, nectar and seeds, dig into the soil for insect larvae and plant tubers (such as native orchids), and dig up rotten logs to look for larvae, especially in rimu forests and pine plantations.

Some kea prey on Hutton's petrel chicks in the Siward Kaikoura range, and throughout their range they take carcasses of deer, chamois, tahr, and sheep. Birds like to perch on the back of sheep and dig into their skin and muscles to get to the fat around the kidneys, which can lead to fatal septicemia. This behavior is not common, but has been the reason the kea has been persecuted for over a hundred years.

In fact, the kea can be a fierce bird in attack on any sheep left unattended. It was this preference that helped put the bird in a dangerous situation, as farmers and shepherds decided to kill them in large numbers. Unfortunately for the kea, their addiction to sheep fat put them on the endangered species list as farmers shot over 150,000 of them before the practice was banned in 1971.

Thus, kea are omnivores and eat a wide range of plant and animal foods, such as:

  • wood and plant products such as leaves, nectar, fruits, roots and seeds;
  • beetles and larvae which they dig up from the ground or from rotten logs;
  • other animals, including including nestlings of other species, such as petrels, or scavengers, and carcasses of sheep.

Character and lifestyle features

Photo: Kea parrot in flight

Photo: Kea parrot in flight

Endemic for New Zealand, the extremely intelligent kea parrots amaze with their courage, curiosity and playfulness. These birds love to try new things. If you give them lunch, they will take from every plate and swallow from every cup, and after eating, all dishes will be thrown away.

Insatiably curious, charismatic and mischievous, keas are also hardy. They can tolerate varying temperatures and thrive on everything from berries, leaves, fruit and nectar to insects, roots and carrion (dead animals). They have also been known to collect food in garbage cans for humans. In fact, keas are known on the South Island's ski fields and roving trails, where they are often described as bold, reckless, and often downright destructive.

Kea tend to hang around alpine picnic spots and parking lots partly because it's an easy source of unhealthy food and partly because that's where they can do the most harm. Young keas in particular are natural children of their parents – they are curious and will crack on any new toy. Residents and tourists alike tell stories about the infamous rooftop birds and the hoods of their cars.

Fun Fact: Kea are generally very sociable birds, and they do not do well in isolation and therefore are not kept as pets. They live for about 15 years usually in groups of up to 15 people. Kea communicate with numerous types of vocalizations, as well as posturing.

Kea are diurnal, getting up early in the morning to start calling, and then foraging for food until late in the morning. They usually sleep in the middle of the day and start foraging again in the evening, sometimes before dark, when they go to roost on tree branches. The timing of these daily activities depends on the weather. Kea are quite heat intolerant and spend more time roosting on hot days.

Kea is able to adapt and can learn or create solutions to survive. They can examine and manipulate items in their habitat, and destroy car accessories and other items. These behaviors of destructiveness and curiosity are seen by scholars as aspects of the game. You can often see the game with branches or stones, singly or in groups. Kea chase predators and intruders in groups if one bird of the group is threatened.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Male and female Kea

Photo: Male and female kea

Kea are polygamous. Males compete for hierarchy and dominance. These hierarchies are not linear. An adult male can dominate an adult, but a young male can also dominate an adult male. They live in family groups and feed in flocks of 30 to 40 birds, often in landfills.

Female kea parrots reach sexual maturity when they are about 3 years old, and males about 4-5 years old. Kea males can mate with up to four females during the breeding season. Kea females usually lay a clutch of 3-4 eggs between July and January in nests built in rocky areas. Incubation takes 22-24 days, the chicks remain in the nest for another 3 months. The female incubates and feeds the young by burping.

The kea's nest is found in burrows under logs, rocks, and tree roots, as well as in cavities between boulders, and sometimes they can build nests for several years. They add plant material such as sticks, grasses, moss, and lichens to nests.

The male brings food to the female, feeding her by regurgitation near the nest. Fledging peaks in December-February, with an average of 1.6 chicks per nest. The bird leaves the nest for feeding twice a day for about 1 hour at dawn and again at night when the birds risk being no further than 1 kilometer from the nest. When the young are about 1 month old, the male helps with feeding. The young remain in the nest for 10 to 13 weeks, after which they leave.

Interesting fact: Usually kea make one clutch per year. Females may also nest for several years in a row, but not all females do so every year.

Kea's natural enemies

Photo: New Zealand Kea

Photo: New Zealand Kea

The stoat is the main predator of the kea, and cats also pose a serious threat when their populations make incursions into the kea's habitat. Possums have been known to prey on kea and interfere with nests, although they do not pose as much of a threat as stoats, and rats can sometimes be observed preying on kea eggs as well. Kea are especially vulnerable because they nest in holes in the ground that are easy to find and fall into.

Lead poisoning was a particularly dangerous threat to the Kea, with thousands of old buildings scattered around the outlying areas of the South Island that could poison inquisitive Kea. The effects of lead poisoning on birds were catastrophic, including brain damage and death. Approximately 150,000 kea have been killed since the 1860s due to a government bounty introduced after a conflict with sheep farmers.

Recent research by the Kea Conservation Trust has shown that two-thirds of kea chicks never reach the fetal stage because their nests are on the ground and they are eaten by stoats, rats and possums (which the New Zealand government has pledged to eradicate by 2050).

Department of Conservation and the Kea Conservation Foundation continue to record deliberate deaths of kea every year (from gunshots, bludgeons, or human poisoning), although such incidents are believed to be under-reported.

Population and species status

Photo: What a kea parrot looks like

Photo: What a kea parrot looks like

Unfortunately, it is difficult to get an accurate estimate of the current kea population as the bird has a fairly wide distribution at low densities. However, it is estimated that between 1,000 and 5,000 of these birds live in the area. The relatively small number of individual birds is the result of aggressive hunting in the past.

Kea used to hunt livestock such as sheep, creating a major problem for farmers in the area. As a result, the New Zealand governments have paid generously for the kea, with the understanding that these birds will be taken out of farmland and thus cease to be a problem for farmers. Unfortunately, this resulted in some hunters going to national parks where they were officially protected to hunt them and claim the reward.

The result was that about 150,000 birds were killed in about 100 years. In 1970, the award was canceled, and in 1986 the birds received full protection. Problem birds are now removed from farms by officials and relocated instead of being killed. The kea population seems to be stable, especially in national parks and various protected areas. But the species are classified as vulnerable and they have a relatively limited range.

Kea Conservation

Photo: Kea from the Red Book

Photo: Kea from the Red Book

The kea is currently listed as “Critically Endangered”, with an approximate but cautious population number of 3,000 to 7,000 individuals in the wild. In 1986, the New Zealand government granted full protection to the kea, making it illegal to harm these unusual parrots. Kea — victims of a lucrative business, they are often captured and exported for the black market animal trade. The species is currently protected by various organisms and associations.

In 2006, the Kea Conservation Foundation was established to help educate and help residents of regions where the kea is a natural species. They also help raise funding for research and assist with necessary conservation efforts to keep the bird safe and with us indefinitely. The research team observed kea nests in areas from the southwest to the Kaurangi National Park and in many places in between. These areas are steep, densely forested and often covered in snow as kea can start breeding while there is still snow on the ground, so track a wild kea, carry a camera and large batteries, — real challenge.

Employees across New Zealand are also monitoring trees for signs of heavy seeding. Kea are at risk of predatory diseases caused by high levels of seed production (“beech mast”). Bird fighting protects kea and other native species from predators. The results of studies that relate to kea have led to a better understanding of how to minimize the risk of kea as a result of pest control carried out in the kea habitat. Currently, there is a code of practice in the kea habitat, followed by all such operations carried out on state protected land.

The kea parrot is a very playful, courageous and inquisitive bird. They are noisy, lively birds that move by jumping sideways to move forward. Endangered kea — the world's only alpine parrot and one of the most intelligent birds. Kea parrots are an important part of New Zealand tourism as many people come to the national park to see them.

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