Our bird of the month is the beautiful Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot
The endangered kea is the world’s only alpine parrot, and one of the most intelligent birds. Kea are endemic to the South Island of New Zealand and are closely associated with mountain beech and lowland podocarp forests. Their range extends approximately 3.5 million hectares from the far north-western forests in Kahurangi National Park and Abel Tasman to the far south-western reaches of Fiordland. DOC estimates there are between 3,000 and 7,000 kea left in New Zealand.
Their environment is extreme and extensive and although they are predominately associated with lowland and mountain forests, they are also found foraging in high altitude alpine meadows and scree slopes. Strong flyers, they are often seen catching the mountain thermals and flying across the tops of snow covered peaks over 2,000 metres high.
Kea are very intelligent birds. They learn impressive foraging skills from their parents and other older birds, and become very skilled with their beaks and claws. As their environment has changed, kea have learned to adapt. Hunters, farmers and hikers all have stories of watching kea learn to get into doors and windows or undo their packs to steal food! They’re also notorious for attacking cars if they get the chance – yanking on aerials and pecking at the rubber around car doors. Kea are famously curious and love to experience new things and solve puzzles. A recent study kea intelligence showed how these clever birds can work in teams to achieve their goals. They are very bold and will happily approach people, especially in places where they have learned they might get food. However, we should never feed kea.
Kea are scavengers and have often been seen pecking at animal carcasses. Unfortunately some kea have also been spotted attacking live sheep. For this reason, early European settlers viewed them as a pest. For many years it was legal to hunt kea for a bounty, and between 1860 and 1970 humans killed at least 150,000. In 1971, bounty hunting was made illegal, and in 1986 kea became a protected species. However, kea still face many threats today. Predators like possums, cats, rats and stoats can attack them or their eggs and steal their food supply. Humans are also a threat to kea, especially as towns and cities grow and push further into their territory.
Check out forest and bird for the latest news and how to protect our native birds.