The kakapo is a green, flightless parrot from New Zealand. It plods around on the forest floor, eating plants, seeds and fruit. The reason for its flightlessness makes perfect sense when you know that the kakapo has no natural predators – no predators means no need to perform the hugely energetic act of flying as there is no danger to escape from. So over time, this parrot evolved to become ground dwelling.
Kakapos have a unique mating strategy. They live a solitary life in the mountainous and forested areas of New Zealand, and finding a mate can be tricky. The males’ solution to this is to find himself a spot quite high up a mountain, dig a bowl in the ground (a round ditch), sit in it and make a loud, echoy ‘boom’ sound to try and lure in the ladies. They only breed every 2-5 years, and only when a certain type of fruit is in season.
Species type – Bird
Global location – New Zealand
Habitat – Forest, scrubland, coastal
Number left in the wild – fewer than 150
IUCN conservation status – critically endangered
Why are they endangered?
They became endangered due to Polynesian (Maori) and European colonisation and the introduction of predators such as cats, rats, ferrets and stoats plus the clearing of forests, all of which nearly wiped them out. In the Maori culture, the bird was also valued for its meat and for the feathers for their ceremonial headgear and cloaks – they were easy to catch!
Since 1891, conservation efforts have been made to prevent extinction. The most successful scheme has been the Kakapo Recovery programme, implemented in 1989 and still ongoing: birds are kept on identified islands around New Zealand with few or no predators. Polynesian Rats have still been causing problems as they eat the eggs so nest protection has been intensified with the use of traps and poison to catch the rats as soon as a nest site is observed. A ‘nest watcher’ also places a thermostatically controlled blanket over the eggs and chicks whenever the female leaves the nest for food. Conservationists also started to feed the female kakapo to enrich their diet and encourage more frequent breeding. All known kakapos have been given names and equipped with a radio transmitter. This Recovery programme has been successful with an increase in the number of birds and now the main aim is to establish at least one self sustaining and unmanaged population in a protected habitat and breed 150 adult females.
Where can I find out more and what can I do to help?
You can read about conservation efforts on the Kakapo Recovery Centre website, and find out how you can help too.