Habitat Tours’ bird of the month: The Kakariki
The kakariki is a fantastic little New Zealand parrot. The word ‘kakariki’ means ‘small green parrot’ in Maori, and there are five different species within this bird family. In English, we call the kakariki parakeet.
Those species are; the yellow-crowned parakeet, the orange-fronted parakeet, the red-crowned parakeet, the Forbes’ parakeet, and the Antipodes Island parakeet.
As the names suggest, you can typically tell each species apart simply from their colouring. The Antipodes Island group have entirely green heads, and the only exception to the name rules is for the Forbes’ Parakeets, which look quite similar to the yellow-crowned species, but can only be found on Mangere Island in the Chathams.
So why have we chosen them as our bird of the month?
For starters, the kakariki – no matter the species – is a strikingly beautiful bird. The bright green feathers and whatever colour you find on the head are a visually arresting sight and one that you should count yourself very luck to see if you ever come across one.
Of course, the kakariki is also a native species to New Zealand, and we always love talking about any flora and fauna that calls this country home! Interestingly, the red- and yellow-crowned kakariki are the only native birds that are allowed to be held bred in captivity with special permission from the Department of Conservation.
Unfortunately, kakariki is not as common as it could be. The yellow-crowned parakeet can be seen in forested areas throughout the main islands of New Zealand and on the Auckland Islands, although sightings are rare. The red-crowned parakeet was once quite common, but is now extremely rare on the mainland and is only really seen on predator-free islands.
As for their lifestyle, the kakariki is a pretty typical bird in that they prefer a diet of berries and fruits, seeds and insects. While they usually nest in trees, they’re often seen (when they are seen) foraging on the ground for snacks. You may even hear them before you see them, as they make a distinctive rapid ‘ki-ki-ki’ sound during flight.
The female kakariki will lay a large clutch of eggs – as many as five to nine – at a time. It may seem surprising that the population of these fantastic species have dwindled with such a large number of eggs, but there are several reasons why that’s not the case. Originally, kakarikis were so common that farmers would shoot the birds, according to the Department of Conservation, as they would feed on fruit and grain crops.
In addition to early human threats, the kakariki now face rats as a major predator. Rats will raid the nests of eggs and wipe out an entire clutch in one go, which is why 1080 poison is commonly used to kill of rats to give kakariki a fighting chance to breed successfully.
Reforestation and protection of old forests is also used to help ensure kakariki have plenty of places to live and scavenge for food.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist