Keas and Kakapos

A great favourite with Scrabble aficionados (it's a great way to get rid of a K, or to nick a few points if you've got a rackful of vowels), the kea was memorably described in one dictionary I used to use as a "sheep–killing parrot of New Zealand".

Sadly I no longer have access to that particular dictionary, and I can't even remember which one it was. Wikipedia however is (as always) more informative. It tells us that the kea is ...

"about 48 cm (19 in) long, mostly olive–green with a brilliant orange under its wings and a large, narrow, curved, grey–brown upper beak ... the world's only alpine parrot ... its omnivorous diet includes carrion, but consists mainly of roots, leaves, berries, nectar, and insects ... now uncommon, it was once killed for bounty due to concerns by the sheep–farming community that it attacked livestock, especially sheep ... it received full protection in 1986."

The kakapo is less useful in Scrabble because you need two Ks, but it's an equally remarkable bird (if not more so).

Also called the owl parrot, its name means 'night parrot' or 'parrot of the night' in the Maori language. It has finely blotched yellow–green plumage, and a distinctive facial disc of feathers that look and behave a bit like whiskers. It also has a large grey beak, short legs, large feet, and relatively short wings and tail. It's the world's heaviest parrot, and the only flightless one; it's nocturnal, herbivorous, visibly sexually dimorphic in body size, has a low basal metabolic rate and no male parental care. It's also the only parrot to have a polygynous lek breeding system, and possibly one of the world's longest–living birds.

(I'm not sure what a polygynous lek is. It's the males that display, and the females choose a mate based on their displays; but I'd have thought this was how all leks worked.)

The kakapo is critically endangered, having suffered from predation by domestic cats, and by other mammals introduced by both Polynesian and European settlers. As of June 2016, the total known adult population was 154, most of which have been given names by the Kakapo Recovery programme.

© Haydn Thompson 2017