chap. i — meet the Kākāpō

Kākāpō

Strigops habroptilus

Animal Stats

OrderPsittaciformes
FamilyStrigopidae
Population211 Left Worldwide
Weightfrom 0.95 to 4 kg
Sizefrom 58 to 64 cm
Threat StatusCritically Endangered

Where It Lives

chap. ii — Fascinating Facts

The parrot that can’t fly

This powerful, flightless parrot can live to be 90 years old. But newly introduced predators and the destruction of its habitat have all but wiped the kākāpō out.

chap. iii — a closer look

The Kākāpō's Story

The kākāpō has lived in New Zealand for thousands of years. It has an owl-like face and mossy green feathers that help camouflage it in its native forests. It uses its muscular legs to hike long distances, its strong beak to climb trees and its stubby wings to jump as far as 15 metres to the ground. Yet unlike other parrots, the kākāpō can’t fly – the result of never having had any natural ground predators. It’s a solitary, herbivorous and nocturnal bird, foraging for food at night and sleeping during the day in ground or tree-top roosts. Its nests are often located in hollow trees or caves made by rocks and roots. 

The kākāpō is also the world's only ‘lekking’ parrot. This means males group together for three months a year to show off and attract females to breed, making booming calls that can be heard up to five kilometres away. Yet to breed, kākāpōs need a lot of available food. They therefore only mate during major fruiting of the rimu and pink pine trees – something that tends to happen every two to five years. When kākāpōs do breed, the females lay between one and four eggs, which hatch after about 30 days. They then raise their young alone, keeping the chicks with them for some time.

Originally, the kākāpō could be found throughout most of New Zealand’s North and South Islands as well as on Stewart Island. But when the first humans arrived there roughly 800 years ago followed by Europeans 500 years later, they brought with them introduced species, like dogs, cats, stoats and rats. They also began clearing the forests. This combination of unfamiliar ground predators and habitat loss put the kākāpō immediately at risk and has seen it wiped out on mainland New Zealand. Since then, the remaining small population has been troubled by disease, inbreeding and infertility, meaning just 211 exist today.

 

What’s being done?

Critically endangered, the kākāpō survives only thanks to the dedicated efforts of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation and their Kakapo Recovery Programme, which protects, manages, and increases the species’ tiny population. Three islands have been cleared of predators and are now home to breeding groups: Little Barrier Island (Te Hauturu-o-Toi); Anchor Island; and Codfish Island (Whenua Hou).