Kakapo

Strigops_habroptilus_1 (1)

Profile

Kakapos are flightless, nocturnal parrots living only in New Zealand. They are the only flightless parrot species in the world! Because of this, they spend the majority of their time on the ground. Since they spend the majority of their time on the ground, their feathers were made to camouflage the bird. The olive green and brown feathers blend in to the dirt, dead leaves, and live plants on the forest floor. Males and females have the same coloration. Although they may not look like it, the kakapo’s feathers are soft. In fact, this bird’s scientific name (habroptila) means soft feathers! This animal’s genus is Strigops, meaning owl-like, because they do look somewhat like owls. They are sometimes even called owl-parrots. Kakapos are the only species in their genus. When walking, these birds’ bodies are nearly parallel to the ground, with their beak almost touching the ground! Despite being flightless, these birds still do have small wings, which they use to balance themselves when they climb into trees.

Size

As adults, owl-parrots can be from 23 to 25 inches (59-64 cm) from head to tail, and females are slightly smaller than the males. The males can weigh up to nine pounds (4.1 kg). This makes them the heaviest parrots in the world! Remember, they are flightless and therefore don’t need to be able to get all of their weight airborne.

Diet

Kakapos are completely herbivorous birds. They eat many different types of plant material. This includes leaves, roots, fruits, seeds, buds, nuts, and flower. As I mentioned earlier, kakapos do not fly, but they do climb up into the trees sometimes. This is usually to hunt. They use their wings to balance, and their feet are specially designed for climbing. They have two toes in the front and two in the back, helping them grip on to the branches better while foraging. One of the kakapo’s favorite foods is the fruit of the rimu tree. The picture below shows a kakapo eating this fruit. They have been known to  eat just this fruit when it is in abundance!

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Habitat and range

Kakapos live only on New Zealand where they used to be safe from predators, as few or none existed. Predators were introduced, however, and in between 1980 and 1997, all kakapos living on the two main islands of New Zealand were transported to smaller islands offshore where no mammalian predators exist. They currently live on just four islands totaling under 20 square miles (less than 50 sq. km.). They are extinct on the two largest islands of New Zealand. These birds usually prefer the habitat of forests, but they can also live in places with fewer trees.

Status and threats

The kakapo is classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Redlist. The are thought to be the rarest birds in the world, and with good reason. For several decades there have not been more than 200 kakapos left in the wild. Because they are so rare, kakapos are highly monitored, and every egg that is laid is counted and watched. Their small home range makes it easier for scientists to find and count these birds. They try to keep track whenever a single bird is born or dies.

Kakapos used to be very common in New Zealand, but as settlers came, they brought with them dogs, cats, stoats, rats, and other carnivorous mammals. Kakapos had no way of dealing with these predators, because they hadn’t had predators before. They couldn’t even fly away! These predators brought in the incredible decrease in the kakapo population that scientists are now working to correct.

Conservation

Great care is taken to study all living kakapos, and to find out the cause of death of those that have died.  In 1995, there were only 51 kakapos left in the wild. The most recent population count I can find is from 2014, when 126 individuals were counted. All individuals even have their own names! Click here to find out more about kakapo conservation.

Reproduction and young

Kakapos did not originally have many predators, so they could afford to breed infrequently. Even now when they are severely endangered, kakapos only breed once every two to four years. These birds breed in what is called a lek mating system. In this system, males gather in a large display ground (called a lek) and compete fro the best spot. When the females come along, males give out loud booming sounds to attract the females. These booms can be heard up to three miles (5 km) away!

Females usually lay just one or two eggs each time they mate. They hatch about thirty days later. They young are extremely dependent on their parents, and usually don’t leave the nest until they are three to four months old. And they don’t even need to learn to fly! Another reason the kakapo population is low is that they usually do not breed for the first time until they are nine or ten years old! The youngest breeding individual was already five or six years old when it mated for the first time. These animals can live up to 60 years in the wild!

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

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Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Kakapo – Mnolf
  • Mystery animal – Sonel.SA
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