Why New Zealand has more parrots than you’d think
When you think of a parrot, the typical image that might come to mind is probably the bright green, red, and blue plumage of a rainforest bird. While those are certainly popular parrots, here in New Zealand we have our own group of cheeky birds.
Here are a handful of the parrots that call New Zealand home.
The kea is an incredibly smart, extremely cheeky bird that is also the only alpine parrot in the world, which is why it’s also sometimes known as the mountain parrot. You’ll most commonly see them around ski fields up and down the South Island, where they love to steal food and loose objects from unsuspecting skiers. They are even well known for pulling parts off cars.
The kea’s olive green plumage and bright red-orange feathers under the wings make it an instantly recognisable parrot in the region. There are an estimated 1,000-5,000 kea left in New Zealand, which means they are a protected species.
The red-crowned kakariki (or parakeet) is another of New Zealand’s very special parrots, and actually looks a lot like the tropical bird you might imagine when you think of a parrot. With bright green feathers, blue-grey wing tips and a burst of red at its crown, this beautiful bird is a treasure amongst a country of fantastic feathered fauna.
They tend to nest in tree holes and live on a diet of berries, fruits, seeds and insects, and while they were common on the mainland in the past, are now only usually seen in predator-free zones on off-shore islands. As they are so rare, the Department of Conservation issues breeding permits for these parrots, and such captive breeding programs have been a huge help in preserving the survival of this species.
New Zealand’s Kaka belongs to the same family as the kea, but is found all around the country, although sightings can be rare with an estimated 1,000 – 5,000 birds. As such, they are classified as nationally vulnerable.
Much like the kea, the kaka are considered a cheeky, boisterous species. They’re known for gathering in groups in the mornings and evenings and creating something of a racket. They’re a precious commodity in forests where they play an important role in pollinating flowers as they go about eating berries, seeds, and nectar from a number of plant species. To spot the kaka, look for a large brown parrot with a greyish crown and a splash of red on the wing.
If you’d like to see something truly special, take a look at the Wellington City Council’s like ‘Kaka Cam’, where you can see a family of kaka in their nest!
The antipodes parrot
The antipodes parrot is something truly special – and you’re not likely to find it anywhere in the wild in the country. That’s because while it technically belongs to New Zealand, the antipodes parrot is endemic only to the Antipodes islands, which are a small, inhospitable volcanic landmasses in the subantarctic waters to the south of the country.
The parrot itself if a bright, uniform green, and it’s estimated that there are roughly 2,000 – 3,000 of them in existence. The area is a nature reserve and restricts human visitation, so these birds remain blissfully unthreatened by pests. It’s most likely you’ll only see one in a zoo, such as the Hamilton Zoo to the south of Auckland.
Wetas: Nighttime aliens or misunderstood critters?
When guests sign up to our Tawharanui ecotours, they generally expect to see kiwi, kaka, morepork, and other fantastic New Zealand birds. What they don’t always expect is an encounter with a New Zealand weta.
And when someone does come face to face with these leggy invertebrates, we find that they fall into one of two categories – either totally fascinated, or a little creeped out!
Two of the main types of weta in the country, the cave weta, and the tree weta can be found on a trip to Tawharanui, although you really have to be looking, as they can be difficult to spot.
The tree weta are the more common type, and can be found in garden and bush areas throughout most of New Zealand. They are typically 4-6 centimetres long, and tend to congregate in groups as they seek out berries and leaves. While the weta (specifically, the males) will often fight amongst themselves, they will not attack or harm humans in any way, despite their ‘creepy crawly’ appearance!
Cave weta are also nocturnal, although it’s not impossible to see them during the day. This type have extremely long antennae and long legs, so can look a little like strange spiders to anyone who is unfamiliar with this New Zealand endemic species.
Aside from cave and tree wetas, there are also giant, ground, and tusked weta dotted about New Zealand. There are 70 species amongst the entire group, and 16 of those are at risk, as natural predators such as birds and reptiles, as well as habitat destruction by humans, threaten them.
Together, these invertebrates are amongst the country’s iconic flora and flauna – regardless of whether you think they are either fascinating or freaky.
Insider’s guide to Waitakere Ranges
The Waitakere Ranges are a popular destination for visitors and Aucklanders on a day tour alike. This beautiful, scenic area is the result of volcanic activity millions of years ago, and these days is well worth the short 40-minute drive for a tour of the Waitakeres.
Much of the 16,000 hectares of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is covered in rainforest.
The kauri tree is one of New Zealand’s most well known species, and it is dotted throughout the Waitakeres, making it important for visitors to follow proper practices to help avoid Kauri die back. You will also find rimu, puriri, kowhai, taka, kahikatea, nikau trees and many others throughout the area.
Plus, you will find plenty of rata in the Waitakeres, which is a cousin of the famous pohutukawa tree.
Due to the region’s fascinating ancient history as a lively volcanic area, the Waitakere Ranges offers up some incredible geology. The area as it is now is heavily eroded after millennia of wear, but you can still see much of the history within the landscape.
The ranges themselves are just the eastern slopes of what was once a massive volcano that rose from the sea and was five to six times the size of Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe put together. About five million years ago, the Tasman Sea eroded the remnants of the main volcano, after which further movements pushed the ranges out of the sea.
Flora and Fauna
The ferns of the Waitakere Ranges are abundant, making for something of a paradise of fern fans with their large varieties and thriving populations throughout the national park. Species such as the mamaku (the black tree fern), the iconic ponga (the silver fern) and the wheki are all common here, as well as a number of small tree ferns.
One of the most interesting members of the Waitakere Ranges rainforest is the Hebe Bishopiana plant. This species is only found in the Waitakere Ranges where it grows on rocky sites (which is where its common name, the Waitakere Rock Koromiko, comes from).
If you venture around the eastern and northern sides of the ranges, you may come across fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks. Ancient fossils have been found here such as marine snails, corals and shells.
And underneath it all is a vast and expansive collection of mosses and fungi, all of which are able to thrive in such a rich environment.
The coastal areas of the Waitakere Ranges are mostly known for their fantastic beaches.
Piha and Muriwai beaches are exception surf spots, and they both share the incredible black sand as Bethells Beach, which is a by-product of the old volcanic activity in the area.
Muriwai is also home to approximately 1,200 pairs of gannets that base their colony around the cliff tops of the beach between August and March every year when they return from Australia to breed.
The coastline is interlaced with countless walking tracks where you can take in the sights including the stunning rainforests, fascinating geological history, rich flora and rugged cliffs and beaches.
Why are pests such a problem for our fauna and flora?
Everybody knows stoats, rats and possums are pests – but what is it exactly that they do? How is it that these tiny creatures can have such a large effect on our flora and fauna?
Stoats are related to weasels and ferrets – which are both also considered pests in New Zealand. These troublesome mustelids have been in the country since they were introduced in the 1880s in an effort to control the rabbit and hare population.
These days, stoats are considered the biggest threat to our birdlife.
Stoats live just about everywhere - in high altitudes, forestland, on farms, in the scrub - so there is nowhere that’s truly safe for birds. Even when stoat numbers are low, they can cause considerable damage to bird populations by preying on young birds such as kiwi. They not only killing nesting mothers, but destroy the eggs as well, which has devastating effects on small populations.
Stoats also eat rodents, insects, rabbits, hares, lizards, hedgehogs, and even fish and crayfish.
Rats were also introduced to New Zealand, and while some were brought here on purpose, plenty have found their way in without being invited as well. There are three types of rat in New Zealand, and all of them are a threat to our beloved ecosystem.
Between them, they eat and destroy a plethora of flora and fauna. Norway rats (also known as brown rats) are quite large and are capable of killing adult nesting seabirds, as well as any other animals that live on the ground. For birds and animals that live high up off the ground, the threat comes in the form of the common rat (sometimes called the ship rat), which is a strong climber and therefore capable of reaching nests in branches. The Pacific rat, which is known as the kiore here, feeds on eggs and chicks as well as insects, lizards, fruits and seeds and therefore removes food sources from our other species.
For now, New Zealand controls the population of rats through poison drops, pest-proof fences and trapping.
Unfortunately, possums were also introduced to New Zealand, and have had a major impact on our native species. They were brought here for their value in the fur trade, and while these pests continue to be hunted for their pelts, their populations are a constant threat to wildlife around the country.
Here, there are no real threats to possums other than humans and they can live just about anywhere that doesn’t receive too much rainfall or is too mountainous.
While possums are a serious threat to our birds, one of the biggest problems with this pest is that they feast on native plants as well. They have been known to demolish entire canopies of trees such as kowhai, rata, titoki, totara and kohekohe by eating the new growth on each tree. As such trees are also homes to our native birds and other wildlife, this also has a flow-on effect that disturbs these lifecycles as well.
New Zealanders who often travel in rural areas will see plenty of possums on the roads, and will often even aim to hit the pests with their cars! Hunters are always on the lookout for possums, and trapping and poisoning are also used to keep the population under control.
Gene study uncovers new 'insight' on NZ kiwi
Despite the years of research and observation already completed on the New Zealand kiwi, we’re still learning new things about the country’s favourite flightless bird all the time.
As it turns out, our precious kiwi bird is colour blind.
This finding was released in the scientific journal Genome Biology, after researchers sequenced the genome of the North Island brown kiwi.
The study points out that the kiwi is the smallest and only nocturnal species in the ratite family, a group that also included the moa, and still includes species such as the cassowary in Australia. Also, the kiwi is part of just 3 per cent of bird species overall that are nocturnal.
This unique feature of kiwis being nocturnal while other ratites are not may be linked to the fact that they are colour blind, as this change in vision is considered consistent with the changes that occur when mammals adapt to nocturnal lifestyles.
As well as this, the researchers discovered that kiwis have a highly diverse set of smell receptors – especially compared with other investigated birds. This excellent sense of smell may help the kiwi to distinguish a much broader range of odours, and therefore help them find safe food sources as they rummage around in the dark.
"These adaptations seem to have happened around 35 million years ago, soon after their arrival in New Zealand, probably as a consequence of their nocturnal lifestyle,” explained Diana de Luc, the study lead author. Believe it or not, this adaptation is considered to be a fairly recent one.
The team of scientists were particularly interested in New Zealand as a place of research due to our geographic isolation. It has led us to be a place unique in our abundance of endemic species of both flora and fauna, which is often why we see birders, scientists, and nature lovers ‘flock’ here from all over the world.
Habitat Tours partners with exciting new travel app
Travelling to new places can be overwhelming. Naturally, you’re always on the lookout for great things to do, but where do you even start?
Kimshi, an exciting new app designed for travellers who want a little more out of their experiences, makes finding tours and experiences a breeze. That’s why Habitat Tours is so excited to announce that we have partnered up with this fantastic tool.
What is Kimshi?
Kimshi is the thinking-man’s travel app. It’s more than just a tool to find something to do, it’s a way to connect with like-minded tour operators around the world who know there’s more to travel than piling into a bus.
The makers behind Kimshi have hand-selected every single featured operator on the app. They only work with small companies who are as committed to wanderlust and the world as they are to sharing their own slice of earth with visitors.
You can use the app to research tours, find information, scroll through surreal photographs, contact operators, and bookmark your favourites.
How does it work?
The Kimshi app offers a clean design and is very intuitive in its use. There’s no clutter, so you can easily jump between tours, look at photos, find out more details, contact suppliers, and book your tour.
It saves you time, helps you quickly find what you’re looking for, and makes it easy to make a decision.
The communication function is one of the most attractive features, as it lets you message operators in the same way that you would send a text, so you can quickly ask any questions before you make your decision or check any details at the last minute before your tour.
You can download the Kimshi app for free from the app store and use it on your iPhone or iPad and even share tour details via Twitter or Facebook.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist