Kea Parrot

The Kea Parrot (Nestor notabilis) is also known as the New Zealand Mountain Parrot. The Kea Parrot is native to the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island. The Kea Parrot is normally found in forests or scrub lands between altitudes of 900 feet (300 metres) and 6,000 feet (2,000 metres).

Kea Parrots are an important part of New Zealand’s tourism industry as many people come to national parks specifically to see Keas, who are very entertaining and playful birds.

Kea Parrot Description

Kea Parrots at maturity measure around 48 centimetres (19 inches) in length. Male Keas weigh more than female Keas. Females can be distinguished from males by their beaks, which are often less sharply curved and shorter.

A Kea Parrots plumage is olive green in colour, their nape and crown is yellow/green and their abdomen and chest is green with a brown tinge. Their lower back is orange to red in colour.

The under wing coverts are also orange to red, though the webbing of the primary flight feathers is blue. The flight feathers of a Kea have yellow banding on their undersides.

The tail of the Kea Parrot is bluish green in colour and has a black tip. Keas have dark grey feet, however, juveniles feet are more yellow. Kea Parrots have dark brown patches around their eyes and their irises are dark brown.

Kea Parrot Habitat

The Kea parrot is principally a mountain bird being found from around 600 – 2000 metres above sea level. During winter the Keas tend to spend most of their time at the lower altitudes where food is more plentiful, however, in spring and autumn they move up into the sub-alpine scrub and grassland to feed on seasonal fruit and berries.

Kea parrots prefer to spend most of their time on the ground entertaining humans with their side-hopping movements. However, when they are in flight they appear magnificent fliers. Kea Parrots like to get into buildings whatever way they can, even down chimneys. They make themselves welcome at ski lodges. Once inside buildings, nothing is sacred, if something can be chewed then they will have a go.

Kea Parrot Diet

The Kea parrots diet is quite varied including leaf buds, roots, berries, fruit, seeds, blossoms, nectar, carrion and insects. They are particularly fond of the nectar of flax, rata, snow totara and coprosma. The Keas long beak is a valuable tool in its search for food especially in crevices in between rocks and boulders and for prizing off the lids of rubbish bins.

Kea Parrot Behaviour

The Kea Parrot is a very playful, inquisitive and brave bird. As aforementioned, they have a tendency to enter buildings and they will even attack motor cars for their wiper blades and windscreen rubbers. They enjoy rolling around in snow and bathing in puddles of thawed ice and when in the air will perform aerobatics in the strong winds.

When not trying to attract attention around humans, kea parrots are usually found in groups of around 10 individuals. During the breeding season when adults are mating, juveniles will form large flocks of up to 100 birds. Keas are semi-nocturnal and can be very active at night, especially during summer months. Keas are fairly hardy birds and once acclimatized they can tolerate a range of temperatures. There does tend to be a seasonal migration to warmer altitudes in the wild, though some birds will permanently live above the snow line in Alpine regions.

Kea parrots are noisy, lively birds who move around by hopping sideways in order to move forward.

Kea Parrot Reproduction

Female Kea Parrots reach sexual maturity when they are around 3 years old and males around 4 – 5 years old. Male Keas may mate with up to four females during breeding season. Female keas usually lay a clutch of 3 – 4 eggs between July and January in nests built in rocky areas. Nests are lined with moss and lichen. The eggs are incubated for 29 days. The hen will leave the nest to be fed or feed twice a day for around 1 hour at daybreak and again at nightfall with the birds venturing no further than 1 kilometre from the nest. When the young are around 1 month old, the male assists with their feeding. The young stay in the nest for between 10 – 13 weeks after which time they fledge.

Kea Parrot Conservation Status

Kea Parrots are classed as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN as their numbers are declining. Their decline is not helped by farmers who shoot them in belief that keas kill their sheep. It has never been proven conclusively one way or the other, however, with the abundance of the Keas normal food it is hard to see why they should turn carnivorous. In the 1940s a bounty was paid for dead Keas and records show that no fewer than 6819 birds were destroyed.