- A-Z Animals
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.
The introduction of humans in this bird’s habitat caused a massive decline in its population, putting them on the verge of extinction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They are exceptionally long-lived, ranging from 40 -80 years, with some birds recorded to have survived up to 100 years.
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.
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.
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.
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.