Kakapo: The Owl Parrot

Glancing through the Internet, as I do many times a day, I came across an interesting website: the ARKive. It is a non-profit initiative dedicated to providing public awareness and education about the conservation of many diverse species across the World. It was created by the charity Wildscreen, initially to record and document the wonders of all species found on Earth. They work alongside Google, WWF and IUCN to ensure there is a free resource accessible to everyone, detailing the features and fascinating personalities of the many species with live amongst. ARKive recently celebrated their 10th Anniversary, and to mark the event, they decided to hold a vote for the World’s most favourite species. And the number 1 choice was a species I knew very little about, so I thought I’d share my findings with you…

The Kakapo (Strigopos habroptila) is an owl parrot native to New Zealand. Unusually, it is a parrot that cannot fly. It is the largest and heaviest parrot (weighing around 4kg!!) and is nocturnal (hence the name ‘owl parrot’). Due to it’s inability to fly, during the day, the Kakapo is usually relaxing under the tree canopies or dwelling around on the ground – a very relaxed life they lead. The Kakapo is currently a Critically Endangered species, with only 125 birds listed by the Kakapo Recovery Programme. Due to its endangered status, the Kakapo can only be found on protected islands in New Zealand, with their nests carefully kept safe, away from any possible predators. Although the Kakapo naturally has very few predators, due to the invasion of the Polynesian people, humans and their counterparts (cats, dogs, rats, ferrets etc.), the species was nearly wiped out. Nonetheless, the Kakapo has fought through, and is the longest living parrot in history! It is thought that this is because of the Kakapo originally having very few predators and also the vast availability of its food source.

The Kakapo in its natural habitat. Credit: ARKive.

The Kakapo in its natural habitat. Credit: ARKive.

Kakapo are herbivorous and mainly forage on plants, seeds and pollen found on the ground bed. They have the perfect beak (long and strong) for grinding up this kind of food. It has been documented that their all-time favourite plant to eat is the rimu tree – a very tall, evergreen coniferous tree – a perfect source for all their greens! Kakapo are quite clever, as they also alter their diet according to the season, so they never go hungry. Kakapo have many other distinct features, including: a blotched, yellow-green plumage, large feet, short but strong legs (which is a vital feature as they can’t fly!) and short wings. Kakapo also have a typical style of movement, which gets them from rimu tree to rimu tree. They almost jog. Yes jog. Think of a smaller version of an ostrich running, on very small legs. Now that’s something to see!

The rimu tree. Credit: Wikipedia.

The rimu tree. Credit: Wikipedia.

Unlike many other parrots, and other birds, Kakapo live a bachelors life – they are polygynous. In other terms, they have several ‘hook-ups’ and only stay with females briefly to mate. To attract a mate, they form what can only be referred to as a showground, where they show-off their particular ‘skills’ in a special display. The females then pick their favourite, and, off they go. This kind of breeding behaviour is known as a lek.

A model depicting the lekking behaviour. Credit: Mimus Polyglottus, cnx.org.

A model depicting the lekking behaviour. Credit: Mimus Polyglottus, cnx.org.

I hope that I have enlightened you a little on the wonders of the Kakapo, a Critically Endangered species that everyone needs to start talking about a little bit more, in order to keep these beautiful and unique birds safe.

Kakapo- get involved

Credit: ARKive.

Devon Smith                                                                                                                           The University of Sheffield                                                                                         @DevonCaira

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