The hunt for the world’s only alpine (and carnivorous) parrot

You need to be sneaky if you want to catch a Kea in the wild. Here’s how Kimberley Collins went searching for the world’s only alpine parrot in Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand.

(Author: Kimberley Collins; Photo: Dave Buckton; 10 March 2017)

As I looked up at the 1300m peak looming over me, I instantly regretted not preparing myself mentally for a long, hard climb. I had just arrived in the Upper Wairau Valley with the Department of Conservation’s Kea team. We were heading into the St Arnaud Ranges in search of female Kea and their nests.

Because Kea are the world’s only truly alpine parrot, I should have known there would be a hill or two. Corey Mosen and Sarah Fisher work with Kea during their breeding season, which starts in August and runs through to December. They look for radio-tagged adults who show signs of nesting and visit nest sites they have found in previous years to find out whether birds are using them.

“The aim is to clap our eyes on eggs, chicks, and nests to monitor whether or not a new, independent Kea is added to the population at the end of the breeding season,” says Mosen.

Kea make their nests on the ground in natural caves and cavities in the rocks, as well as in the hollows and roots of large trees. This makes them vulnerable to predation by introduced mammals. Stoats can kill adult females and chicks, while rats and possums will hassle them in the nest and eat their eggs.

As I huffed and puffed up the steep incline, Mosen explained (without losing his breath) that it takes about four months for a Kea egg to hatch and become independent.

“They’re vulnerable for quite a long time and that’s why two-thirds of Kea chicks never fledge. Once the chicks are out of the nest and able to fend for themselves, their survival rates are good – so our team focuses on getting the chicks fledged successfully,” says Mosen.

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