Animals & the Enivronment: Kakapo (Kiwi of the Parrots)

by Kacey Barton

When you think of parrots, the first images that most likely come to mind are of the colorful red and blue-and-yellow macaws; their vibrant feathers making for a beautiful display as they fly within the tropical South American forests. Probably the last thing you'd expect to see among a lineup of parrots would be a green, unassuming creature walking about on the forest floors of New Zealand.

Kakapos are flightless and nocturnal parrots, their name meaning “night parrot” in Maori. These pudgy little birds can weigh up to 8 pounds and are more than capable of climbing trees to forage, dropping from them with little help from their wings. Kakapos are native to New Zealand but exist now only on specific, predator-free and protected islands due to their Critically Endangered status.

Kakapo lived a peaceful, virtually predator-free life on the Polynesian Island of New Zealand before the arrival of humans. Their only trick was to remain absolutely still and rely on their camouflage to protect them, something that worked with birds of prey, but was useless against humans and predatory mammals such as dogs and weasels. Additionally, when European settlers arrived, the Kakapo was hunted to near extinction by the 1930s on the North Island of New Zealand.

Populations kept declining after humans shifted their interests away from the defenseless parrot; predatory mammals introduced by man and foraging animals depleting their food source, continued to cause population decline. The New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs finally took action in 1952 to help save the remaining Kakapo. By 1999, they were moved to protected, predator-free islands in New Zealand, where the remaining 62 parrots could live and breed in peace. Due to rigorous conservation efforts to ensure the survival of these unique birds, the population as of June 2017 was 154 individual Kakapos; however, they remain Critically Endangered.

Through generous donations of time and money, organizations whose aim is to protect and grow the Kakapo's population, like the Kakapo Recovery Programme, are able to do everything possible to ensure their survival. Monitoring activities, providing scientific research, supplementary food and artificial incubation are just a few of the tools the Kakapo Recovery Programme use in their conservation efforts. With help spreading the word about the status of the Kakapo, and donations that directly benefit Kakapo recovery, this special bird will stay protected.

Original art by Kacey Barton

Original art by Kacey Barton