New Zealand Kākā 

North Island Kaka

The New Zealand Kākā (Nestor meridionalis) is a large, lively and noisy parrot found in the native forests of New Zealand. There are two subspecies, the North Island Kākā and the South Island Kākā. Interestingly, both have olive-brown feathers with crimson feathers under their wings. However, there are slight differences, such as the South Island Kākā has brighter feathers and a paler grey crown. It is also slightly larger, whereas the North Island Kākā is more olive-brown.

In Māori, the word Kākā means parrot. 

Characteristics

The New Zealand Kākā is a social medium-sized parrot that lives in flocks. One can often hear them before seeing them, as they are very vocal birds and screech as they fly. It is closely related to the Kea but has darker feathers and spends more time in trees than the Kea. Their weight is 400 – 560g and is 45 cm long.

 

Habitat

New Zealand Kākā lives in lowland forests and trees. 

Diet

They are mainly herbivorous and prefer fruit, berries, seeds, sap, flowers, and plants. However, they will eat invertebrates such as grubs, beetles and worms. Their powerful beaks can shred open decaying woods and pinecones when searching for food. 

Reproduction

The Kākā make their nests in hollow trees.  They usually lay between 2 – 4 eggs but can lay more.  However, only two chicks will survive. Females will incubate their eggs, which hatch after 24 days of incubation. Males will bring food to the females during this time, following which both parents will feed and take care of the chicks.  The chicks remain in the nest for around two months. Some chicks leave the nest before they can fly and are vulnerable to ground-dwelling predators such as stoats and cats.

 Conservation status

Kākā are listed as threatened, with numbers decreasing. The number of mature individuals is 2,500 – 9,999 (2016, IUCN Red List of Endangered Species). 

Sadly, ground mammals are responsible for around the loss of 26 million native birds annually in New Zealand. Stoats are the main predators of birds, followed by possums and other small mammals such as cats and rats. Predators such as possums, pigs, and wasps negatively affect the Kākā food resources.

In addition, habitat loss and deforestation have also severely impacted the Kākā. 

The Department of Conservation in New Zealand and local conservation groups have established national projects to coordinate the recovery of the New Zealand Kākā. These projects aim to maintain a viable population of South Island Kākā in the beech honeydew forests of the northern South Island.

Additionally, they are studying the effects of pest control on North Island Kākā to maintain a viable population within central North Island forests. Using traps and ground-baiting predators significantly positively affects the recovery of the New Zealand Kākā and other birds.

Humans feeding the Kākā

Due to the increase in their population, the Kākā are visiting people in their gardens and are being artificially fed inappropriate food, such as nuts, grains, and cheese. As a result, their chicks develop metabolic bone disease, many of which have died. The Kākā have also begun nesting on rooftops of domestic homes.

People have tried to domesticate the New Zealand Kākā, but it is illegal to own a Kākā as a pet.

North Island Kaka sound

https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets/documents/conservation/native-animals/birds/bird-song/north-island-kaka.mp3

South Island Kaka sound

https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets/documents/conservation/native-animals/birds/bird-song/south-island-kaka.mp3

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(c) Margaret Weiss 2020