As well as the kiwi, (see prevous blog in this series) New Zealand has other flightless birds, all of which are in danger of extinction. Apart from two bats, New Zealand had no terrestrial mammals until the Maori arrived some one-thousand years ago, bringing the kiore,(a Pacific rat) and the Pakeha ( European) some eight hundred years later, who brought rabbits, possums, deer, stoat and many other animals. Before that, with no predators, it appears the birds had no need to fly and so lost the ability.
Introduced animals have been devastating these birds and their habitat since their introduction.
New Zealand‘s kakapo is one of the worlds rarest birds. (six billon people in the world – only 90 kakapo birds) A large nocturnal flightless bird, it has full-size wings, their only apparent use being for balance while running, or the occasional glide after clambering up a tree. Sometimes called the owl parrot, the kakapo weighs between 2.00 and 2.5 kilo.
Iridescent moss green, barred with lemon yellow and black, this gentle, tame and slow moving parrot is totally vulnerable to hunting by introduced feral cats, rats, stoats and ferrets. The kakapo lives in rain-forests, from sea level to alpine basins. A vegetarian, it covers large distances each night, competing with the introduced deer for the same food. Like the kiwi it has small eyes, excellent hearing and catlike whiskers at the base of its bill.
The male is promiscuous, gathering in ‘booming’ areas with other males where they boom loudly Called ‘lek mating’ for 6-8 hours every night for up to five months, calling to attract females who then nest build and raise the chicks alone. The kakapo is New Zealands only lek bird. Most flightless birds emerge from the egg active, not helpless and blind like the young kakapo. This has contributed greatly to the birds demise as the mother has to leave the defenceless chick to forage.
In the short term, transferring the few remaining birds to off shore, predator free islands appears to be the only way to save these delightful parrots. Long term prospects for the kakapo do not seem promising despite intensive work by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. However the 2009 season is showing some promise see here.
Meet Sinbad a young kakapo who had an adventurous start to his life. He was one of three chicks hatched in 1998 but, as the youngest and smallest chick in the nest, could not get the food he needed to survive.