The nocturnal Kakapo or ‘Owl Parrot’ (so called because of its facial disc of owl-like whiskers) is a large, stocky, New Zealand endemic bird.
The Kakapo is the heaviest of all the parrots, usually gaining between 60-100% in body weight in preparation for the breeding season. The Maori name ‘Kakapo’ means ‘night parrot’ reflecting the bird’s nocturnal behaviour. Unlike typical parrots, which are gaudy, sociable and strong-fliers, the Kakapo is solitary and flightless, running through the forest on its strong, muscular legs, having evolved in the absence of mammalian predators. They are the only members of its’ own subfamily, Strigopinae. The Kakapo is surprisingly adept at climbing, hauling its great weight up trees using a powerful beak, and by flapping its short wings can jump to the ground from as high as 15 meters without injury. With an average lifespan of 90 years (in the absence of predators), they are the world’s longest living bird as well as exhibiting the lowest energy expenditure of any bird.
The species was previously widespread and common throughout the country. Unfortunately hunting, the introduction of mammalian predators, widespread forest burning and clearance, and habitat degradation by introduced herbivores have caused a catastrophic decline in numbers. It is now extinct throughout its natural range, and survives only on three small, intensively managed islands following a series of successful translocations. Dedicated conservation efforts have seen the population increase slowly to 125 individuals.
- Order: Psittaciformes
- Family: Strigopidae
- Population: 126
- Trend: increasing
- Size: 58-64cm
- Weight: 2-5kg
Endemic to New Zealand, though extinct throughout its natural range which historically covered areas throughout the North, South and Steward Islands. Individuals from Stewart Island were translocated to four off-shore islands: Maud, Codfish, Pearl and Little Barrier. Today only Codfish, Anchor and Little Barrier are inhabited by Kakpos, providing a species range of around 6,000 hectares.
Habitat and Ecology
The Kakapo can be found in a wide range of habitats of varying altitudes and climates, including forest, scrub, herb fields and tussock grassland. The species has also adapted to unfamiliar habitats, including pastureland.
These herbivorous birds have a varied diet as they forage in the tree tops for fruit and on the ground for the leaves, roots, bark and seeds from a number of native plant species.
The kakapo is the only parrot known to form “leks”, breeding territories where males attract females for mating. Breeding only occurs in years where there is a heavy supply of fruit, and thus clutches are only laid every three to five years, making for a very slow breeding cycle.