Kea


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The Kea (Nestor notabilis) is one of the seven parrot species endemic to New Zealand.

Keas are omnivorous crow-sized birds (46 cm length, 700-1000g weight); they have olive green plumage with dark-edged feathers, scarlet underwings with yellow stripes, grey legs. The ceres, bill and eyes are dark grey. Juvenile birds (age 0-3) have yellow ceres, eye-rings and beak parts. Fledglings also have a lighter-coloured crown. They are thought to live to an age of 50 years but there is no published data on maximum age.

Their habitat ranges from lowland river valleys up to the alpine regions of the South Island such as Arthur's Pass and Mt. Cook National Park. The breeding areas are most commonly in Southern Beech forests, located on steep mountain sides. They are the only parrot species breeding at heights of 1600m above sea level and higher. Their notorious urge to explore and manipulate combined with strong neophilia, makes this bird a pest for residents and an attraction for tourists. Called "clowns of the mountains", they will investigate a backpack or a car that happens to catch their attention.

Population estimates range from 1000 to 5000 individuals, but their wide-spread distribution at low density hinders accurate estimates. More than 150,000 were killed due to the misconception that Kea predate upon lifestock (mainly sheep), leading the New Zealand government to pay bounty for Kea bills. It is known though, that Kea feed on live sheep that have been injured or immobilized. In the 1970s the Kea received partial protection after a census counted only 5000 birds. They were not fully protected until 1986, when farmers gave up their legal right to shoot any Kea that tampered with property or livestock. In exchange, the government agreed to investigate any reports of problem birds and have them removed from the land.

The Kea struts around as though he owns the place, sticking his beak into anything left unguarded. Be careful not to leave your tent or backpacks unattended. Its beak is lethal and even windscreen wiper rubbers, tyres, the roof of convertible cars and motorbike seats are an easy target for the Kea with its heart set on mischief.

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