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Monday, April 1, 2024

Kakapo ! ~ the rare flightless bird of New Zealand

Have you seen or read about this strange bird resembling a parrot and in someways an owl  !!!  - it is a flightless bird, a rare and strange one – a nocturnal and heavy one, found in New Zealand.

Its Latin name translates to something like “owl-face soft-feather.” It does possess very soft feathers and a prominent facial disc of fine feathers, like an owl. It also sometimes goes by the name of owl parrot or night parrot.  The birds live in New Zealand, an island country which had virtually no mammals living on it for millions of years. It was a place inhabited by birds and reptiles.

It is the ‘Kakapo’ [also called Night parrot, owl parrot] a large,flightless, nocturnal, ground-dwelling parrot of the super-family Strigopoidea endemic to New Zealand.  It has finely blotched yellow-green plumage, a distinct facial disc of sensory, vibrissa-like feathers, a large grey beak, short legs, large feet, and wings and a tail of relatively short length. A combination of traits make it unique among its kind; it is the world's only flightless parrot, the heaviest parrot.   Its anatomy typifies the tendency of bird evolution on oceanic islands, with few predators and abundant food.  Like many other New Zealand bird species, the kakapo was historically important to the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, appearing in many of their traditional legends and folklore. It was hunted and used as a resource by Māori, both for its meat as a food source and for its feathers, which were used to make highly valued pieces of clothing. It was also sometimes kept as a pet.

The kakapo is critically endangered; as of March 2014, with an additional six  from the first hatchings since 2011, the total known population is only 126 living individuals, as reported by the Kakapo Recovery programme, most of which have been given names.  The Programme states that  surviving kakapo are kept on three predator-free islands, Codfish (Whenua Hou), Anchor and Little Barrier islands, where they are closely monitored.   The New Zealand government is willingly providing the use of these islands to kakapo conservation.

The flightless birds use their short wings for balance and support rather than flapping.  They can  climb tall trees and use their wings to help “parachute” to the forest floor.  Kakapos freeze when startled. One of their defenses is to freeze and hope to blend into the background when danger is near. The kakapo has a well-developed sense of smell, useful in its nocturnal lifestyle. It also has what’s described as a musty-sweet odor. This likely helps kakapos find each other in the forest; unfortunately, it helps introduced mammalian predators find them, too.

Sometime back the World wide web was abuzz with the long-shot success story of Lisa One, a kakapo parrot chick whose life was saved by New Zealand conservationists after her mother Lisa accidentally crushed her egg. The task was arduous considering the delicate nature.   Senior kakapo ranger Jo Ledington had to tape the shell of a partially crushed kakapo egg back together and allow the chick within to mature and hatch naturally. They succeeded by using, of all thing, masking tape.

Preserving the kakapo is important not just to maintain New Zealand’s biodiversity, but because they’re truly extraordinary birds. Not only are they the world’s heaviest parrot at 2-4kg, they are also possibly the longest-lived bird in the world, with a life expectancy of 95 years – and some have even lived to 120.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
13th Feb 2015.
PS : facts collated from various sources including Kakapo Recovery programme;; and

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