Kakapo

The Kakapo, a flightless bird, the heaviest parrot globally, weighs more than the hyacinth macaw, the largest flying parrot. The Maori, indigenous people of New Zealand, were the first to encounter this bird naming it ‘night parrot’. Its role in their culture was significant, featuring in Maori folklore and legends. Their other name, owl parrot, was given by European settlers who found its face similar to the owl.

Kakapo Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Psittaciformes
Strigopidae
Strigops
S. habroptilus

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

Kakapo

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Psittaciformes
Strigopidae
Strigops
S. habroptilus

The introduction of humans in this bird’s habitat caused a massive decline in its population, putting them on the verge of extinction.

Kakapo

 Description

Size: Height: 23 to 25 in (58 to 64 cm) Weight: 2 to 9 lb (0.95 to 4 kg)

Beak: The beak of these parrots is grey and pointed. It has delicate feathers around it resembling whiskers giving it an owl-like appearance.

Feet: Their legs are short, with their toes being large and scaly. Similar to all other parrots, they have two toes in front and two behind.

Body and Coloration: This stout and round bird have highly short wings, being a perfect contrast against its large size. The upper parts of the plumage are a mottled yellowish-green, dotted with black spots and brown patches throughout. The underbelly, neck, and face are predominantly yellow, while the eyes are brown.

Females differ from males by their narrower head and beak and a longer tail. Their plumage is also more subtle, with less mottling.

Juveniles have a duller green coloration, with a short ring of feathers encircling their eyes resembling eyelashes. The yellowish tinge on their feathers is also not as seen in adults.

Range and Distribution

Before human interaction, the kakapo dwelt throughout the North and South Island of New Zealand. After conservation efforts, its population is restricted to a few islands: Codfish, Maud, and Little Barrier Islands, remaining in the same range for years.

Habitat

The kakapo is very adaptive and was once able to live on a variety of habitats like scrublands, coastal areas, mountainous terrain, tussocklands, and even pasturelands. In Fiordland, in the south-western corner of South Island, certain regions where wineberry and five finger grew became known as ‘kakapo gardens’ since they inhabited these places.

While capable of adapting to diverse conditions, it is now confined primarily to the temperate forests of its home islands.

Kakapo Habitat
Kakapo Bird

Diet

Herbivores in nature, these birds eat different parts of the plant like fruits, seeds, green shoots, tubers, and pollen. Their diet varies with season, having a particular fondness for the rimu tree, alongside inaka and mountain pinkberry. Being flightless, they have a low metabolic rate and can survive on small amounts of food at a time.

Lifespan

They are exceptionally long-lived, ranging from 40 -80 years, with some birds recorded to have survived up to 100 years.

Behavior

  • It is nocturnal, a unique trait among parrots.
  • They are solitary and territorial, warning other kakapos to stay away.
  • These parrots are very good at climbing trees and use their wings as a parachute to leap from tree to tree at an angle less than 45°.
  • Curious in nature, each bird will display a unique personality. These range from friendly, grumpy, aloof, wanting to explore, having a healthy appetite, etc.

Predators

Currently, the kakapo has no enemies as they inhabit predator-free islands. The main threat to these parrots in the past arose when humans brought dogs, and later domestic cats, black rats, stoats, ferrets, and weasels to New Zealand.

Owl Parrot
Kakapo Parrot

Adaptations

  • The mottled feathers of this species helped them in the past to camouflage from predators, especially those with keen eyesight.
  • It has strong legs to jog and leap over long distances, adapted to live on the ground.
  • Their sharp beak and claws help them in climbing trees, while the wings facilitate proper balance.
  • The beak also helps in grinding food for easy digestion, as they have a small gizzard.
  • Males have an inflatable air sac in their throats and can make loud booming noises.

Mating and Reproduction

Kakapos are the only parrots to use a “lek” system for breeding. Their mating period is highly irregular, taking place over 2-4 years at a time, depending on the fruit of the rimu tree.

The “lek” ritual involves creating a “bowl” in the ground by the male, after which they start making booming calls, followed by a loud shrieking noise to attract a mate. The female then chooses a partner. They are polygynous, and the opposite sexes only meet during this period.

Baby Kakapo
Kakapo Bird

Life Cycle

 1-2 eggs get laid per season with an incubation time of 30 days. After mating, the mothers are the ones who build the nest and take care of the young, with no help from the father. The baby kakapos are altricial, meaning they are underdeveloped and need constant care and protection. Juveniles reach sexual maturity at 9-12 years.

Conservation Status

The IUCN lists this parrot as “CR” or “Critically Endangered”. Despite efforts to conserve it starting from the 1890s, the Kakapo Recovery Programme (1995) was the most successful. It involved taking these birds and transferring them to islands without any predators. As of 2021, there are around 200 left in the wild.

Kakapo Picture
Kakapo Image

Interesting Facts

  • Every member of the species has their own name, like Boomer, Ruth, Ruapuke, Ra, and Attenborough.
  • The most famous kakapo in the world is Sirocco, who became famous in 2009 for jumping on a man’s head. The bird went missing for two years before finally being found again in 2018.
  • There have been many books and documentaries about the kakapo, some of which are the book “Two in the Bush” by Gerald Durrell in 1992 and the documentary “The Unnatural History of the Kakapo”.
  • The Kakapo was named New Zealand’s bird of the year in 2008 and 2020.

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