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New Zealand’s Flightless “Owl” Parrot – ZOOMOLOGY BLOG


A weblog publish by Emma

For 2 weeks over the New Zealand 2018/2019 summer season, Tom and I volunteered with kākāpō on Whenua Hou Island. You may learn concerning the journey and a few of the different species we encountered in our weblog publish, right here.

While we had been on the island, we had been extraordinarily fortunate to have a few kākāpō sightings. We additionally noticed loads of kākāpō signal. At this time, we wish to introduce you to this charismatic critter and to share a number of of our personal observations.

One of many many beautiful views on Whenua Hou

The Kākāpō (Strigops habroptilus)


Kākāpō (Strigops habroptilus) are a critically endangered nocturnal, flightless parrot endemic to New Zealand. They’re a really distinctive species with no shut kinfolk.

The identify kākāpō actually interprets to ‘evening parrot’ in Māori, with ‘kākā’ which means ‘parrot’ and ‘pō’ which means ‘darkness’ or ‘evening’. They’re typically identified in English because the ‘owl parrot’.

The Kākāpō (Strigops habroptilus)

On the Brink of Extinction


Kākāpō was once widespread all through New Zealand’s forests earlier than people arrived. The Nineteenth-century West Coast explorer, Charlie Douglas, wrote of the kākāpō saying,

“The birds was once in dozens around the camp, screeching and yelling like lots of demons, and at instances it was impossable [sic] to sleep for the noise.”

“…At different instances they might be caught within the moonlight, when on the low scrub, by merely shaking the tree or bush until they tumbled on the bottom, one thing like shaking down apples. I’ve seen as many as half a dozen Kakapos knocked off one tutu bush this fashion.”

However, by the mid Nineties, their inhabitants reached a low level of solely 51 birds. This devastating drop in inhabitants was primarily brought on by launched mammals which preyed on them. Rats will eat the eggs and chicks, while grownup birds can simply be killed by bigger predators comparable to stoats, cats and canine.

As a way to try to preserve the species, most of the birds had been translocated to predator-free offshore islands, comparable to Whenua Hou. To learn extra concerning the conservation historical past of kākāpō, go to right here.

With solely 213 kākāpō alive as of seventeenth September 2019, each particular person is of nice significance. A lot so that each hen has a reputation. There’s a fascinating web site in which you’ll be able to see the names and particulars of just about all the birds right here.


Kākāpō: A World Title Holder


The world’s heaviest parrot

Kākāpō are the heaviest parrot species on this planet. On common, the females weigh 1.4 kg and males 2.2 kg. They will acquire 1 kg of fats previous to a breeding season.

The world’s solely flightless parrot

Kākāpō are the world’s solely flightless parrot. The explanation for that is that they developed with out the presence of mammalian predators (New Zealand’s solely homeland mammals are bats). They gained weight and misplaced their capability to fly. Now, their wings are used for steadiness and sleek falls. Though they will’t fly, lighter females can glide brief distances throughout gaps of three–4 m.

Being flightless doesn’t imply that you just received’t discover them excessive up in a tree although! Utilizing their robust claws, kākāpō can climb 20m up timber. Additionally they have giant, robust legs and may stroll a number of kilometres at a time. They will additionally run fairly quick briefly bursts when they should.

The world’s solely lek-breeding parrot

Lek-breeding is when males placed on shows at fastened places to draw feminine consideration. The males don’t assist to boost any offspring both. Kākāpō are the world’s solely identified parrot species to lek-breed. They’re additionally the one lek-breeding hen in New Zealand.

A number of male kākāpō will construct “observe and bowl” techniques to type a communal show space. From these bowls, they may puff up their chests and make loud, deep booming calls all through the evening. These dug out bowls (such because the one pictured beneath) act to amplify the decision, sending it out into all the encircling hills and valleys. Females are attracted for kilometres round and spend a very long time selecting a mate from amongst the competing boomers. Typically the males additionally make a ‘chinging’ name which, by it’s nature, is simpler to pinpoint.

Tom beside a “bowl” dug out by a male kākāpō

Maybe the world’s longest-lived hen species

Kākāpō are long-lived and estimated to achieve 90 years of age. They don’t begin breeding till they’re about 5 years outdated.


Our Seek for Kākāpō


Being on an island inhabited by kākāpō does under no circumstances assure you will note one. When disturbed, their defence tactic is to freeze. They’re masters of camouflage and mix in so completely to the encircling vegetation, that until you see motion, you in all probability received’t see them.

As a facet word, this defence mechanism labored very effectively in defending kākāpō from aerial predators who depend on sight, such because the now-extinct native Haast’s eagle and enormous Eyles harrier. However, they’re sitting “geese” relating to any predator that makes use of their sense of odor to hunt, i.e. all the launched mammalian predators.

Can you see the kākāpō on this photograph?
Click on to zoom in

Tom and I spent nearly each daylight hour for 2 weeks tramping round in kākāpō territory, and it wasn’t till close to the tip of our journey that we first noticed a glimpse of 1. All in all, we had been each fortunate sufficient to have two sightings every.

All of our a whole lot of different “kākāpō’ sightings ended with a dissatisfied sigh of, “Oh, it’s only a ball of moss…” No offence to any bryologists on the market!

Is it a kākāpō or a ball of moss?

Kākāpō Signal


While you may not see a kākāpō within the flesh, you’ll doubtless have probability of seeing some kākāpō signal.

We noticed a number of feathers on our walks. They had been fairly thrilling to choose up and study because it’s in all probability the closest we’ll ever get to a kākāpō! When trying on the patterning and colors, you’ll be able to see why they mix in so effectively with the New Zealand bush.

Maybe not fairly as endearing, however equally as telling, is discovering kākāpō poo. Their droppings are literally actually priceless to scientists who’ve analysed them to be taught many issues, from determining which gut-microbes the birds have, as to whether there are dietary triggers to kākāpō breeding.


“Shagged by a Uncommon Parrot”


I couldn’t end the publish with out sharing this clip from the BBC’s “Final Likelihood to See” with Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine. Watch it and also you’ll perceive why.


Tom is at the moment writing the following publish in our Whenua Hou sequence. He’ll be introducing you all to the attractive, yellow songbird, the mōhua. Till then!


References and Additional Studying


Division of Conservation – Kākāpō – https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/kakapo/
(Retrieved 13/05/2020)

Division of Conservation – Kākāpō Behaviour – https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/kakapo/behaviour/
(Retrieved 13/05/2020)

Division of Conservation – Kākāpō Restoration – https://www.doc.govt.nz/our-work/kakapo-recovery/
(Retrieved 13/05/2020)

Division of Conservation Weblog – Nuggets from our Natives – https://weblog.doc.govt.nz/2017/12/28/nuggets-from-our-natives/
(Retrieved 13/05/2020)

IUCN Crimson Checklist – Kakapo – https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22685245/129751169
(Retrieved 13/05/2020)

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa – Lek Mating System of the Kākāpō – https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/matter/1010
(Retrieved 13/05/2020)

New Zealand Birds – Kakapo – https://www.nzbirds.com/birds/kakapo.html
(Retrieved 13/05/2020)

New Zealand Birds On-line – Kakapo – http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/kakapo
(Retrieved 13/05/2020)



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