I must confess it, I’ve had this article in mind for quite a while. Before I even arrived in New Zealand, I knew I would write an article with this title.
The pun was easy. New Zealand kaka (Nestor meridionalis) are parrots, and as such, I expected them to be noisy. My first encounter with them, in Hahei, confirmed it, but I never got to see them up close. When they flew over the property, though, their cackling voice echoed loud and clear. I was eager to meet them again.
I was looking forward to visiting Zealandia for this very reason. In the hills of Wellington, a huge fence closed an area of 225 hectares, creating a sanctuary free of pests where native fauna can thrive. Most of the birds are similar to those in Tiritiri Matangi, with a notable difference: the Kaka.
I heard them before I saw them, of course. As I walked along the lake, then in the forest, I heard them screech high above. Then I arrived to the feeders.
While it’s not ideal to have animals dependent on humans for food, and kakas now have a well established population in Zealandia, they are still fed there. First, it encourages them to stay inside the sanctuary, away from the rats, possums and cats that roam outside. Second, it helps monitoring and studying them. Third, it makes them visible to visitors, and thus helps raising conservation awareness.
Indeed, kakas are engaging creatures, obviously smart and playful, and after watching them, the visitor cannot but love them.
In a way, they look like monkeys: they are social and vocal, they hold food with their feet, they use their beak like a hand to climb up and down. Eventually, they look like… us, and I believe that’s why we can’t help falling in love with them.
At first sight, they look a bit dull. Brown. In the right light, though, they reveal tones of crimson and orange, and when they take off, their underwing feathers shine bright. Unfortunately, they either fly too high in the sky, or inside the forest, where it’s close to impossible to make flight pictures.
One day, though, I was further up in the forest, when three Kaka came and fumbled around in the trees, always chatting with each other. To keep their balance, they used their wings, and I managed to catch the colors there on some frame.
I was waiting for other birds, and so I missed the funniest moment. One parrot had lost its balance, and was hanging from an horizontal branch with just one leg, the other one wiggling in the wind, trying to find some purchase. It faced me, with its two wings spread out in an attempt to right itself up. By the time I turned my camera towards that bird, it had recovered and moved on, but oh boy it was funny!
Zealandia has feeders specially designed for Kaka, with lids that lift only when there’s more than 400 grams on the balancing platform. That way, a Common blackbird (Turdus merula) cannot open them by itself (and it’s way too dumb to team up with comrades).
However, I once witnessed a Kaka standing on the platform for much longer than necessary, allowing at least 5 blackbirds to snatch a pellet of parrot food. Did the smart parrot do it on purpose? There was a spark of mischievousness in its eye I think, but maybe I imagined it?
They also have bottles with a mix of sugar and water; there, Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiaea) have learnt to drink from them as well.
In the mountains of the South Island lives the kaka’s cousin, the Kea (Nestor notabilis). I think you can already guess the title of the article I’ll write about it…
Until then, take care 😉
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