New Zealand’s Mischievous Kea Parrot

November 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

Not very many people have heard of a Kea Parrot. This average-sized parrot hails from the forested and alpine regions of New Zealand‘s South Island and it is listed as a ‘vulnerable’ species due to its relative scarcity. What makes this bird so special is the fact that it is one of the few true alpine parrots in the world. It is also an omnivore, feeding on carrion and insects in addition to the roots, berries, nectar and leaves that make up the bulk of its diet.

For those living on New Zealand’s South Island, the Kea (Nestor notabilis) is largely considered to be a rather pesky protected bird. The bird has a well-earned reputation for incurable curiosity and brilliant intelligence. While both of these traits are vital to their survival in their oftentimes harsh mountain home, they prove to be perplexing for the many humans that have settled nearby. The birds often frequent skiing areas, attracted by the prospect of feeding off the food scraps left behind by humans. Unfortunately for the humans, the Kea’s immense curiosity often leads them to become ‘pests’, as they pry apart certain rubberized car parts or steal or peck unguarded clothes. They also tend to be quite determined to investigate their new found objects fully and so often seem to be cheeky and hard to get rid of. However when you overcome the annoyance of having your favorite possessions picked apart by this pesky critter, you discover a bird that is very intelligent. The Kea has been able to solve several logical puzzles during certain research studies that have been conducted in the past. Some of these saw the bird pushing or pulling objects in a certain order so as to get to some food. Other tests saw a number of birds working as a team in order to accomplish a specific task. No wonder visitors and locals find these birds a force to be reckoned with!

Unfortunately, it is difficult to get an accurate estimate of current Kea Parrot numbers, as the bird has quite a widespread distribution at low densities. However, it is estimated that there are anywhere between 1000 and 5000 of these birds living in the area. The relatively low number of individual birds is as the result of aggressive hunting in the past. The Kea’s used to prey on livestock such as sheep, posing a serious problem for farmers in the area. As a result, the New Zealand governments paid a bounty for Kea bills, with the idea that these birds would be removed from farming areas and so cease being a problem to farmers. Unfortunately this led to some hunters venturing into national parks where they were officially protected in order to hunt them and claim the bounty. The result was that some 150,000 birds were slaughtered in about a 100 year period. In 1970 the bounty was lifted and the birds received full protection in 1986. Problem birds are now removed from farms by officials and relocated instead of being killed. Keas are generally very social birds and they do not do well in isolation and so are not kept as pets. They live for about 15 years and generally live in groups of up to 15 individuals. No doubt if you visit South Island’s higher reaches, you will encounter one of these fascinating birds for yourself.

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