Parrot of the Week 6
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Scientific Name: Strigops habroptilus
Classification: Kingdom: Animalia > Phylum: Chordata > Class: Aves > Order: Psittaciformes > Family: Strigopidae > Genus: Strigops > Species: habroptilus
Conservation Status: Critically Endangered; there are 153 as of 2016
Other Common Names: Night parrot, owl parrot, tarapo, tarepo
Average Length (wild): 23 – 25 in, 58 – 64 cm
Average Weight (wild): 2 – 9 lb, 0.95 – 4 kg
Average Lifespan: 58 years, but have potential to live into their 90s. Their exact lifespan is unknown. Researchers in the recovery program will know when the kakapo hatched in the recovery effort die of old age, which could be decades from now.
(Above: Historic range; Below: Current range)
Native Range: Used to live from the far north of the North Island to the south of the South Island. Now they are only found on offshore islands that are protected areas without introduced predators. It is not believed that there are any left on the main land of New Zealand, when the recovery program began they were all captured from the Fiordland National Park and brought to protected zones. They currently live on Codfish Island (Whenua Hau), Little Barrier Island (Hauturu ao Toi), and Anchor Island.
Naturalized Range: N/A
Natural Habitat: Formally from sea level to near tops of mountains. They are ground dwellers who live in forest substrate and scrubland.
Flock Size: They are solitary, gathering only to breed
Call: Loud screeching “skraark”
Breeding: They do not breed every year, as they will only breed when there is enough rimu fruit.
Breeding season starts around December and lasts until April
They engage in “lek” breeding, which is when the males compete for female attention. They are the only parrot species and New Zealand bird species to do this.
The male inflates like a balloon, and then emits a low boom which can be heard from up to 5 km away. This lets any females in the area know that he is ready to mate
After 20 -30 booms, the male emits a high-pitched ‘ching’, which pinpoints his position, allowing females to find him
This booming and chinging can last for 8 hours nonstop every night for 2-3 months during breeding season
(Above: Booming Sketch)
Nesting: The female lays 1-4 eggs. They are similar in size to chicken eggs and will hatch after 30 days. The female raises them by herself, and has to leave the nest at night to search for food. After 10 weeks, the fledglings leave the nest, but may still be fed by their mother for up to 6 months.
Wild Diet: The berries of the Rimu plant (see picture) are their favorite food. They also eat parts of other native plants, including the fruits, seeds, bark, bulbs, leaves, stems, mosses, ferns, fungi, and roots. Species include pink pine, stinkwood, Hall’s totara, and mountain flax. When food species that are important to their diet become abundant, they feed exclusively on it.
Currently, they are also fed pellets, freeze-dried and frozen fruit, walnuts, and pine conelets by the recovery effort.
Sexually Dimorphic: Yes, the males are larger
Description (wild): The upper side of their body is green with random black, brown, and yellow barring and mottling. Their underparts are a yellow-green and have irregular yellow and brown barring. The face is yellow-brown and the beak is grey and smaller in females. The primary wing feathers are tipped with yellow in males and green and brown in females. The tail is green and brown with yellow and black barring and flecks.
Color Mutations: N/A
Noise Level: Loud
Talking Ability: N/A
Personality: They are nocturnal and solitary and roost on the ground or in trees during the day. When disturbed, they freeze, trying to blend in with their background.
Behavioral Concerns: They are not equipped to deal with human intrusion and introduced predators, which caused their numbers to decline rapidly. By 1970, there were only 18 males left in Fiordland. In 1977, a small population of both males and females were found.
Health Concerns: Recently there has been an increase in cases of “crusty butt”, which is a viral infection that causes the cloaca to become inflamed, and presents like severe dermatitis.
It is still unknown what is causing the virus and if it is infectious. There has been one death due to this infection, and treatment, a topical cream, seems to only help some individuals.
As of now, it is only found on Codfish Island, and has been since 2002.
It is being taken very seriously and is being closely monitored, with research being done to learn more about it.
History in Captivity: Some young chicks are raised in captivity as part of a Conservation attempt to save the species. Conservation and recovery of this species has been going one since 1977, when a population of both females and males were found on Stewart Island.
Fun Facts: They are the largest parrot species in the world (by weight) and possibly the oldest living bird!
Sirocco, a male kakapo born March 23, 1997, was raised in captivity due to a illness that required he be hand raised and quarantined from other kakapo. He now thinks he’s human and is a conservation ambassador for the kakapo.
He proved that kakapo can swim, after deciding to join one of the rangers’ family who were swimming in the ocean. He jumped off the jetty and paddled around for a bit before going back to shore, completely nonchalant.
He is also the kakapo who made his species famous after “shagging” Mark Cawardine on the BBC series “Last Chance to See”.
You can follow him on twitter @Spokesbird