New Zealand's Most Colourful Parrot

by Dawn Stewart ©

As with many of our native bird species, the slide toward extinction is ever-threatening, and the South Island Kaka, Nestor meridionalis meridionalis is no exception.

South Island Kaka Nestor meridionalis meridionalis Photo by & courtesy of Mr Brian Karl, taken at Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand

Government Departments need to work in with other groups with an interest in the fauna of our country before it’s too late. Parrot breeders have long been put down, and help offered, turned down, yet all our parrot species are now endangered.

It is the South Island Kaka which is least known in New Zealand, as few photos appear in books or magazines. Because of this, many think there is only one Kaka. This is unfortunate because the South Island Kaka is the most colourful of all our parrots, very different from its North Island counterpart, N.m. septentrionalis. The South Island Kaka's colours include white, orange, yellow, red-crimson, green and brown.

New Zealand parrots are very adaptable to captivity as they have little fear of humans. This also makes them easy to breed and manage in the aviary.

Kaka have loud calls though and are like Kea, semi-nocturnal, so not suitable in small confined housing areas, but large country aviaries would be quite suitable.

However, no breeding is allowed at this time and we still await any decisions on our recommendations which were put forward at a Department of Conservation meeting on Conservation Management Strategy. These were:

  • No recovery plans for South Island Kaka
  • Opposed South Island Kaka being ranked nationally as Category B
  • Opposed the words "probably decreasing"
  • Proposed South Island Kaka be ranked Category A (highest priority)

Letters of support worldwide have been received, tabled in Parliament, and a selection given to this meeting and to the new Minister of Conservation, Dr Nick Smith.

Kea in Nest with Chick - Nestor notabilis. Photo courtesy of Dawn Stewart New Zealand

We await his reply. This is the third Minister we have dealt with and everyone is hoping for better leadership from him. He is at the moment restructuring Department of Conservation, and has a large workload. He is young and ready for a "fresh start" and wants an end to D.O.C. arrogance.

Landcare Research has done good work bringing the South Island Kaka’s plight to our attention. Nests which were monitored have produced no breeding for 7 years, four out of five nests had hens killed which wipes out two generations at once. This produces a very quick rate of decline and leaves an imbalance of cocks to hens.

D.O.C. state they will save them by bringing browers and predators under control in the Southern Alps. This is an almost impossible task.

During the day Kaka sit quietly in large tree canopies. As well as a grating harsh call they also have a beautiful melodious and a whistling call. They collect nectar and pollen from Kowa, flax and crimson rota flowers, in turn fertilising our native plants and therefore ensuring the propagation of our forests. The Honey-dew which is found on Black beech trees is a favourite food, but introduced wasps are eating this which in turn denies the Kaka of this food source. Mistletoe has been nearly eaten out by introduced possums, therefore taking away yet another food for the Kaka. They love demolishing rotting logs with their large strong beaks, where they find juicy white Huhu grubs.

Predators include stoats, ferrets, possums, rats and cats. Add to this, a shortage in the food chain and they definitely have a problem in reproducing their species.

When in flight the beautiful under-wing colours show to perfection against the bright blue sky. Kaka can be heard from a distance when feeding their young, however, this in turn makes it easy for predators to know their exact location.

When nestlings fledge, they cannot fly very well and spend up to three days mastering the art of flight. Again, giving predators ample opportunity for another meal.

Before the introduction of predators, this of course didn’t matter, as bats are New Zealand’s only mammal. Therefore our birds did not need a means of escaping the continual onslaught which now occurs.

We cannot see a future for these birds and many others including our symbol or New Zealand, the Kiwi, unless they are allowed to be captive bred, as a means of safeguard against extinction in the wild.

© Article under Copyright with the Author, Mrs Dawn Stewart and cannot be reprinted without written permission.

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