The Kea Parrot (Nestor notabilis) is also known as the New Zealand Mountain Parrot. The Kea Parrot is native to the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island. The Kea Parrot is normally found in forests or scrub lands between altitudes of 900 feet (300 metres) and 6,000 feet (2,000 metres).
Kea Parrots are an important part of New Zealand’s tourism industry as many people come to national parks specifically to see Keas, who are very entertaining and playful birds.
The plumage on the back of kea is olive green. Their head is a darker olive green. On the top of the head and the back of the neck, the feathers are yellow. Their chest is orangey-brown. On its back and at the beginning of the tail they have red feathers. At the edges of the wings and on the bottom of the tail the feathers are blue. At the very end of the tail is a line of black feathers. Their upper beak is grey and incredibly long. The undersides of their feathers are red. The irises are brown.
Keas measure 48cm (19 in). They weigh only 0.8-1kg (1.8-2.2lb)
Keas are one of the only 10 parrot species which live in New Zealand. They are found along the west coast of the South Island. There is evidence they once inhabited the North Island but they are not currently found here.
They make their home on the alpine ridges in the Southern beech forests. Lowland river valleys and coastal forests are also home to these species. They will move to low altitudes in the winter and the higher altitudes over summer. Most of their time is spent on the ground.
Kea nests are built in rock crevasses, holes and under logs.
The Kea parrot’s diet is quite varied including leaf buds, roots, berries, fruit, seeds, blossoms, nectar, carrion, and insects. They are particularly fond of the nectar of flax, rata, snow totara, and coprosma. The Keas long beak is a valuable tool in its search for food especially in crevices in between rocks and boulders and for prizing off the lids of rubbish bins.
Groups of keas consist of 10-13 individuals. When it comes time for the adults to mate juvenile flocks of 100 may form.
Keas have a semi-nocturnal activity pattern. They undertake most of their activity at night in the summer months.
These birds are very noisy. On the ground they move about using a sideways hopping motion.
This species has been documented using a number of tools. They are highly intelligent and have been trained to move items in a certain order to receive treats. They are incredibly curious and this causes damage in some areas. Regularly they are seen stealing items and destroying items like windscreen wipers, passports, and skis.
Female Kea Parrots reach sexual maturity when they are around 3 years old and males around 4 – 5 years old. Male Keas may mate with up to four females during the breeding season. Female keas usually lay a clutch of 3 – 4 eggs between July and January in nests built in rocky areas. Nests are lined with moss and lichen. The eggs are incubated for 29 days. The hen will leave the nest to be fed or feed twice a day for around 1 hour at daybreak and again at nightfall with the birds venturing no further than 1 kilometer from the nest. When the young are around 1 month old, the male assists with their feeding. The young stay in the nest for between 10 – 13 weeks after which time they fledge.
Keas are sometimes referred to as the ‘clown of the mountain’ due to their cheeky personality.
In the past, a bounty was offered for killing keas due to the perception that they killed sheep regularly.
From 1967-1992 the kea featured on the New Zealand $10 note. In 1992 it was replaced by the who.