Kea (Nestor notabilis)

GenusNestor (1)
SizeLength: 48 cm (2)
Weight922 g (3)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (4). Listed as Nationally Endangered in New Zealand (5).

The notorious kea is a mountain-dwelling parrot that has achieved a reputation for inquisitiveness and reckless behaviour. These birds are predominantly olive-green in colour, with darker edges (3). The lower back and tail are reddish, whilst the underwings are orange with yellow markings (3). The dark, recurved upper bill is significantly larger in males than females (3). The common name comes from the distinctive loud call of 'keee-aa' (2).

Endemic to New Zealand's South Island, kea are found from Nelson to Fiordland and in Marlborough (2).

Historically, these mountain parrots are found in high-altitude forest and alpine basins (2).

Well-known as highly intelligent and curious birds, kea are quick to explore their environment, which may be an important behavioural trait in the harsh climate of New Zealand's high country (6). The breeding season runs from July to January, and clutches of two to four eggs are laid in nests protected amongst the boulders (7). Males feed their mate whilst she incubates the eggs (2), which may take up to four weeks (3). Family groups remain together until the chicks reach sexual maturity; a time when males generally disperse from their natal area (3).

Kea have a varied and adaptable diet, reflecting the changeable conditions of their habitat. In summer, seeds, flowers and insects are taken and mountain flax is particularly popular (6). Kea are also known to take Huttons shearwater chicks (Puffinus huttoni) from their nests (9). In the winter however, when times are hard, these parrots may feed on animal carcasses, particularly those of sheep which are farmed in the hill country, and may even attack live sheep (6).

Kea numbers are difficult to assess due to the inaccessibility of their mountain habitat (2), but there are an estimated 1,000 to 5,000 individuals remaining in the wild (5) and it is feared this population may be declining (2). Kea have achieved a negative reputation for attacking sheep and have been persecuted as a result; it is estimated that over 150,000 birds were shot in a bounty scheme until they received partial protection in 1971 (2). Kea only gained full protection in 1986, under the New Zealand Wildlife Act, 1953 (10). The inquisitiveness of these highly intelligent birds has also led them to damage property and cars in mountain areas such as ski resorts, which further affects their reputation (7).

Kea are protected by law in New Zealand (7), and there is ongoing research into their ecology and population distribution (2). The New Zealand Department of Conservation has introduced a banding scheme that allows it to keep track of 'problem' birds, thus helping to waylay farmers' fears (7). In March 2006, the Kea Conservation Trust was established to address issues surrounding the plight of this species and raise awareness about the status and management of both wild and captive kea populations in New Zealand (8). These fascinating birds have been dubbed the 'clown of New Zealand's Southern Alps' and as such, attract quite a tourist following (3), a factor that may prove important for their survival.

For more information on the Kea see:

Authenticated (10/09/2006) by Tamsin Orr-Walker, Trust Chair, Kea Conservation Trust.

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2008)
  2. BirdLife International (April, 2003)
  3. Animal Diversity Web (April, 2003)$narrative.html
  4. CITES (April, 2003)
  5. Hitchmough, R. (2002) New Zealand Threat Classification System Lists. Threatened Species Occasional Publication 23. Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand.
  6. NZ (April, 2003)
  7. New Zealand Department of Conservation (June, 2008)
  8. Fijn, N. and Morris, R. (2003) The Kea. Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd., Auckland, New Zealand.
  9. Pullar, T. (1996) Kea (Nestor notabilis) Captive Management Plan and Husbandry Manual - Threatened Species Occasional Publication 9. Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand.
  10. Kea Conservation Trust (August, 2006)