Maori Name: Kaka
The Kaka is endemic to New Zealand, and is one of only 3 parrot species of Nestoridae, the others being the Kea and the Kakapo. Nestoridae is an ancient family of large parrots which evolved from true parrots before New Zealand broke away from Gondwana. This family differs from the 4 other species of endemic parrot we have in New Zealand (the parakeet or kakariki) which are descended from the true parrot family.
There are 2 subspecies of the Kaka – the North Island ‘septentrionalis’ and the South Island ‘meridionalis’.
Kaka were formerly widespread and quite common on all 3 main islands and the outlying ones, but the range and number of kaka has severely reduced since European colonisation. Deforestation was the initial reason, but introduced predators and increasing numbers of introduced competitors have also continued this downward trend.
The Kaka is an arboreal parrot that either lives in low to mid altitude beech forest or forest that consists of podocarp mixed with hardwood trees.
Kaka spend much of their time above the forest canopy jumping from branch to branch, flocking noisily or feeding alone. Any time on the ground is spent jumping rather than walking. Large flocks of Kaka often contain Kea.
Kaka will most often be seen or heard in the early morning or late evening, flying over the forest and calling frequently. Calls include loud, harsh grating cries, high-pitched wails and melodious whistles.
When travelling long distances they fly very high. Often crossing entire valleys from one steep ridge to the next.
The Kaka is quite a large parrot at 45 centimetres and has a big head with a curved grey brown beak and yellow eyes. The plumage is a dark olive brown with bright reddish feathers on its rump and orange red under its wings - something which is mostly seen when flying. Male Kaka have a more curved beak and are brighter coloured. Chicks have grey down, an upper beak that is distinctly black with bright yellow nostrils and cheek puches.
The South Island Kaka differs from the North Island Kaka in size (it is slightly larger) and in the display of more vivid red and green coloured feathers and a whiter crown.
Nests are usually built in hollow trees on a warm north facing slope. The entrance hole will be high above the ground with the nest placed well below the hole and lined with wood chips and dust.
Up to 5 smooth white eggs will be laid and incubated by the female for about 24 days. The male will feed the female during this time. When the chicks hatch they are fed by both parents. They remain in the nest for 9-12 weeks and fledge by 9-12 weeks, when the male takes over most of their care. During this stage Kaka are particularly susceptible to predation from stoats which often results in the death of the female due to the nest having a single entrance and therefore no option for her excape.
The Kaka diet consists mainly of seeds, fruit, nectar and insects. They will use their powerful beak to rip bark off trees in search of the larvae of the wood-boring beetles, and their brush tongue to extract nectar from flowers.
Honey dew is also a staple part of their diet and being a high energy food, it has a big part to play in breeding. In fact the Kaka depends quite heavily on red beech seed and honey dew, and in years when this is plentiful, it will tend to breed twice in the same season. Competition from possums for fruit and nectar bearing plants and wasps for honey dew has led to the further decline of the Kaka. Further more direct predation from possum and stoat have sealed the fate of Kaka in some marginal areas where predator control is not feasible. As suitable habitat remains intact in many parts of the south island, predation and food competition is thought to be the major mechanism of decline.
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