Kakāpō

Once kakāpō existed throughout New Zealand, and once it was one of our most common birds. Now it is one of our rarest.

Sirocco at a feeding station on Codfish Island. Photo: Don Merton
Sirocco at a feeding station on Codfish Island. Photo: Don Merton

There are only 131 kakāpō in the world - and they all have names. Some of them are funny names like Sinbad, Nora and Richard Henry.

They all live on the islands at the bottom of the South Island, and in Fiordland.

Our giant, nocturnal parrot has evolved some unusual habits that make it very special.

First off, they generally only breed in years when the rimu tree or kahikatea tree is fruiting (every 2-3 years). That’s so they can get super-fat, so that they can run around feeding their chicks.

Breeding 

When they breed it is quite a performance.

The male makes a special bowl, and then fills his chest pouch with air and then lets out an almighty ‘boom’. This boom carries for up to five kilometres, and attracts females from across the land.

The female will then watch him boom, and decide whether he would be a good mate. This type of mating is called 'lek mating' - it's when birds use an area to perform for courtship.

Trouble is, the male kakāpō isn’t a stay-at-home type - the female does all the work. She incubates the eggs and then when they’ve hatched she has to go and find food, leaving her chicks alone. This makes them an easy midnight snack for predators, such as rats, possums and stoats.

The kakāpō is the ...

• Heaviest parrot in the world.
• Only flightless parrot.
• Only nocturnal parrot.
• Only parrot where the male has inflatable thoracic sacs.
• Only parrot to have a lek mating system

If there was a "Guinness Book of Bird Records", the kakapo would be a star!


The kakāpō is a very special parrot…

  • It is a related to the forest parrot, the kaka, and our mountain parrot, the kea. Apart from that it has no close relatives in the world!
  • The kakāpō does not fly but is a good climber and uses its wings for balancing.
  • The kakāpō lives to a mighty age for a bird, getting to over 60 years old.
  • Kakāpō feathers are very soft and moss-green in colour, with some black on its back and yellow-green feathers on its belly.
  • The kakāpō is a good colour for hiding, but enemies can often find them because of their strong smell.
  • Kakāpō are strict vegetarians. They eat the fruit of rimu, kahikatea and mingimingi, the seeds of manuka and leatherwood (Olearia colensoi) and various shoots. In summer and autumn they drink rata nectar, and in winter they eat sun orchid bulbs.
  • Unfortunately, the kakāpō was very yummy, and settlers used to eat it. They were not only hunted, they also were effectively booted off their land, when their forests were replaced with grass, and later, cows and sheep.