A Good Year for One of the World’s Heaviest Parrots

The nocturnal, flightless, and extremely rare kakapos of New Zealand had their best breeding season in two decades.
(Photo: Robin Bush/Getty Images)
Apr 24, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

The last remaining kakapos—heavyset flightless parrots that only live in remote parts of New Zealand—got busy this year.

A total of 37 kakapo chicks have survived so far in 2016, signaling the most successful breeding season since conservation efforts began for the critically endangered species more than 20 years ago.

That baby boom is a much-needed boost for the 123 adult birds remaining.

“The future of New Zealand’s own giant flightless parrot is looking much brighter,” New Zealand Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said in a statement.

Centuries ago, kakapos were plentiful across New Zealand, but the introduction of predators such as ferrets and weasels led to their decline. By the 1900s, the green-feathered birds were thought to be extinct, but in 1970, about 40 kakapos were found on Stewart Island, just off the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island.

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Beginning in 1995, kakapos were transported to three predator-free islands, where the birds are monitored. The last egg hatched April 8, and all the hatchlings will be checked and weighed regularly until they fledge from the nests at about 10 weeks old.

They won’t be added to the official kakapo count until six months after their birth, said Barry.

This year marked the first time successful hatches took place on all three islands, as kakapos are notoriously picky breeders, according to the New Zealand Department of Conservation. They only reproduce every two to four years, depending on the availability of fruit from trees—their primary food source.

Deidre Vercoe, the conservation department’s kakapo operations manager, told The Guardian that improvements in remote-sensing data and monitoring equipment that allows for a more “hands-off” approach to kakapo management could be part of the reason for the successful breeding season.

“This is a turning point for us,” she said. “These kinds of technological advances are enabling us to look after more kakapo in a noninvasive way, and as the population grows, these tools will be crucial.”