Interesting facts about kakapos

The kakapo also called owl parrot is a species of large, flightless, nocturnal, ground-dwelling parrot.

It is the only parrot which cannot fly.

With a face like an owl, a posture like a penguin, and a walk like a duck, the extraordinarily tame and gentle kakapo is one of strangest and rarest birds on Earth.

This parrot lives in grassland, scrubland and coastal regions of New Zealand, but is now so rare they can only be seen on protected offshore islands.

It is possibly one of the world’s longest-living birds, with a reported lifespan of up to 100 years.

Heaviest of the world’s parrots, the 64-cm (25-inch) kakapo weighs up to 6 kg (13 pounds) and has moss-coloured green-and-brown plumage, a long, rounded tail, and a stout, blunt, pale yellow bill.

Kākāpō are herbivorous – they only eat plants. Their diet is diverse, including fruit from the tips of high rimu branches, juicy supplejack vines and orchard tubers grubbed out of the ground.

On its brownish gray legs, the parrot waddles long distances to feeding areas, where it chews plants for their juices and digs up rhizomes to crush them with its ridged bill.

The kakapo has a well-developed sense of smell, which complements its nocturnal lifestyle.

Like many other parrots, kakapo have a variety of calls. As well as the booms and chings of their mating calls, they will often loudly skraark.

Males construct pathways to excavated mating arenas known as leks, where they gather in traditional spots to call and display for females. In a plate-sized depression often at the crest of a rocky knoll, the male inflates his chest like a bloated bullfrog, heaves his thorax, bobs his head, and releases a resonant boom like the sound made by blowing across the top of a large bottle. The call lasts all night and carries for 1 km (0.6 miles).

Females nest in holes in the ground. The female kakapo lays 1–4 eggs per breeding cycle, with several days between eggs. She nests on the ground under the cover of plants or in cavities such as hollow tree trunks.

The female incubates the eggs faithfully, but is forced to leave them every night in search of food. Predators are known to eat the eggs, and the embryos inside can also die of cold in the mother’s absence. Kakapo eggs usually hatch within 30 days, bearing fluffy grey chicks that are quite helpless. After the eggs hatch, the female feeds the chicks for three months, and the chicks remain with the female for some months after fledging.

The kakapo only breed every 2 to 4 years when rimu trees produce a bumper crop of fruit, and even when they do mate, less than 50 percent of the eggs are fertile, likely because of inbreeding.

Kākāpō evolved without the presence and effect of mammals. They gained weight and lost their flying ability.

Kakapo means ‘night parrot’ in the Maori language.

Like many other New Zealand bird species, the kakapo was historically important to Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, appearing in many of their traditional legends and folklore – however it was also heavily hunted and used as a resource by Māori, both for its meat as a food source and for its feathers, which were used to make highly valued pieces of clothing. Kakapo were also occasionally kept as pets.

Before the arrival of humans, the kakapo was distributed throughout both main islands of New Zealand.

In Fiordland, areas of avalanche and slip debris with regenerating and heavily fruiting vegetation – such as five finger, wineberry, bush lawyer, tutu, hebes, and coprosmas – became known as “kakapo gardens”.

The kakapo is critically endangered – the total known adult population is about 200 living individuals, all of which are named and tagged, confined to four small islands off the coast of New Zealand that have been cleared of predators.

The introduction of predators such as cats, rats, ferrets, and stoats during British colonisation almost wiped out the kakapo.

Conservation efforts began in the 1890s, but they were not very successful until the implementation of the Kakapo Recovery Programme in 1995.

The conservation of the kakapo has made the species well known. Many books and documentaries detailing the plight of the kakapo have been produced in recent years.

Today, most kakapo are kept on two predator-free islands, Codfish / Whenua Hou and Anchor, where they are closely monitored, and Little Barrier / Hauturu Island is being trialled as a third home for the
species.

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