kea kea

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The kea is the only alpine parrot on the planet, and is one of ten parrot species endemic to New Zealand.  It belongs to the same family as the precious moss potato, the kakapo, and the colourful kaka.  Its clownish nature is so well-known that a group of kea is called a circus!

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Panorama of Mauna Kea at about 10,000 feet elevation. Small cinder cones from volcanic eruptions in the foreground, clouds in the saddle between Kea and Mauna Loa in the distance.

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Kea are known for being utterly fearless around humans. This can be both a blessing and a curse; on the one hand, many tourists fall in love with the kea’s comical antics.  On the other, this fearlessness combined with the parrot’s natural curiosity has led them to cause significant damage to property.  Kea have been known to rifle through clothes, open backpacks, strip windshield wipers and rubber sealant from cars.  They are also unrepentant thieves, flying away with anything that catches their fancy.  One kea flew through the open window of a camper van, making away with a bag containing $900 of a tourist’s money.  And a Scottish tourist got the shock of his life when a kea flew off with his passport!  The tourist in question stated: “My passport is somewhere out there in Fiordland. The kea’s probably using it for fraudulent claims or something. I’ll never look at a kea in the same way.”

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Kea look somewhat unimpressive on the ground, with their backs and breasts a dull, olive grey in colour.  When they are in flight, however, it’s a whole different story.  The kea’s underwings are a vivid orange-red, its flight feathers are a rich blue-green, and its rump is crimson.  These feathers aren’t just beautiful, they may have a vital function in communication; the red-orange that paints the undersides of the bird’s wings is visible in the UV spectrum, invisible to humans, but brilliant to birds!

[Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada] argues that ‘any time Hawaiians—or any other native people, for that matter—come out in force to push for more respect for our culture and language or to protect our places from this kind of destruction, we are dismissed as relics of the past, unable to hack it in the modern world with our antiquated traditions and practices.
—  David Malie, Science, Time, and Mauna a Wākea: The Thirty-Meter Telescope’s Capitalist-Colonialist Violence, Part II
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The kea is beautiful, intelligent, hilarirous..and in serious trouble.  In the last decade kea numbers have plummeted, and there are many reasons why.  Like many New Zealand species, the kea has been greatly affected by invasive mammalian predators such as rats, stoats, and possums.  A study has shown that only about two thirds of kea chicks survive to fledging due to nest raids by these predators.  Unfortunately, government efforts to eradicate these creatures are also affecting the kea, as the curious birds will often consume poisoned bait and be caught in traps.  

The kea’s curiosity and intelligence may also work against it.  Many kea have died from lead poisoning, as they will chew on the roofs and gutters of old buildings, which often contain lead.  In addition, chewing on buildings and cars leads kea into increasing conflict with humans.

Humans are deeply divided in their opinion about the kea, and both of them can be harmful.  Many people love the kea, and travel to the national parks just to see them.  These same people, however, charmed by the kea’s fearlessness, will feed them unsuitable and harmful foods such as chips, ice cream, and chocolate.  This also encourages the kea to seek out people, which can lead them to approach those on the other side of the spectrum.  For other humans consider the kea a terrible nuisance due to its attacks on sheep and destructive nature.  Despite protection by the government, many locals still actively hunt and shoot kea.

There may be as few as 1000 kea left in the wild.

vimeo

“Hawaii - The Pace of Formation” is a window into the creation of an island. The Kilauea Volcano’s continued flow of lava into the ocean is one of the few places in the world to provide a front row seat of an island’s formation. The Big Island is literally changing before your eyes. This vast island contains 8 out of 13 different climate zones in the world, each with unique ecosystems, making the Big Island one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world. To showcase its diversity, we wanted to slow things down and let its beauty speak for itself. Enjoy!
Visit all the locations in this video for yourself in this unique 8k 360 video experience: youtube.com/watch?v=c858UGeCeG4
Check out a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of this adventure: vimeo.com/203005247
Filmed by
Aaron Mendez instagram.com/aaronmendezfilms
Brian Hawkins instagram.com/brian.hawkins
Chaz Curry instagram.com/chazcurry
Matt Givot instagram.com/mgivot
Thank you to our lava guides for making this possible and keeping us safe.
John Tarson - Epic Lava epiclava.com
Warren Fintz - Eppix Adventures eppixadventures.photoshelter.com/index
Moku Nui Lava Tours - mnlavatour.com
Filming Locations
Kamokuna lava ocean entry in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Rainbow Falls, Hilo
Mauna Kea Observatory
Waipio Valley
South Point
Pololu Valley
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens
Nahiwa Point

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Adult kea hold a breeding territory all of their own, but that doesn’t mean this parrot is antisocial!  Juvenile kea in particular form large, noisy flocks that have a loose hierarchy.  These flocks can travel through the territories of mated pairs without fear, and often the couple will join the group for feeding and socialising.  This adolescent phase lasts for a surprisingly long time; young kea leave the nest at around 100 to 150 days of age, and will not settle down with a mate until they are around four years old.  This extended juvenile period may allow the kea to develop very complex behaviours and learn various new foraging techniques.