Kea

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Image:Kea.JPG

Common Name: Kea
Scientific Name: Nestor notabilis

Size: 19 inches (48cm)

Habitat: Oceania; New Zealand (occurs in Marlborough and from Nelson to Fiordland on South Island). It mostly inhabits high-altitude forest and alpine basins, although birds will often frequent lowland flats.

Status: Near Threatened. Global Population: 5,000 Mature individuals and decreasing. Up until its protection in 1970, over 150,000 were shot in a bounty scheme, established because rogue individuals were found to be attacking sheep as a source of fat. Introduced mammals such as stoat (Mustela ermine), cats and brush-tailed possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) have spread into most of the species’ range, but the extent of predation is unknown, although it may be significant, and likely to increase in areas where possums have only recently colonized. Possums, thar (Hemitragus jemlahicus), red deer (Cervus elaphus), hare (Lepus europaeus), chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) and pastoral farming practices may also be depleting crucial winter foods. Farmers kill an unknown number of birds each year. It is suspected that some birds are poisoned by toxins and other hazardous material scavenged from rubbish dumps and sites of human occupation.

Research is being conducted on its ecology and population dynamics. Advocacy is aimed at informing alpine users of ways to minimize adverse impacts and to change the negative image of the species often held by high-country farmers and ski-field operators

Diet: Berries and shoots, although many have adapted to feeding at refuse dumps and ski-fields. Kea will feed on animal fat during winter months.

Breeding: Kea are polygamous, with one male attached to multiple females. They nest in holes, under logs or in rocky crevasses. They are accessed by tunnels leading back 1 m to 6 m into a larger chamber, which is furnished with lichens, moss, ferns and rotting wood. The laying period starts in July and reaches into January. Two to five white eggs are laid, with an incubation time of around 21 days, and a brooding period of 94 days. Males feed the females during incubation and after hatching. Birds breed after three or more years.

Cool Facts: The Kea was described by ornithologist John Gould in 1856. Its specific epithet, the Latin term notabilis, means "noteworthy".The common name is from Māori, probably representing the screech of the bird. The term Kea is both singular and plural. Kea are known for their intelligence and curiosity, both vital to their survival in a harsh mountain environment. Kea can solve logical puzzles, such as pushing and pulling things in a certain order to get to food, and will work together to achieve a certain objective.

The Kea's notorious urge to explore and manipulate, combined with strong sense of neophilia, makes this bird a pest for residents and an attraction for tourists. Called "the clown of the mountains", it will investigate backpacks, boots or even cars, often causing damage or flying off with smaller items.

People commonly encounter wild Kea at South Island ski areas. The Kea are attracted by the prospect of food scraps. Their curiosity leads them to peck and carry away unguarded items of clothing or to pry apart rubber parts of cars—to the entertainment and annoyance of human observers. They are often described as "cheeky". A Kea has even been reported to have made off with a Scottish man's passport while he was visiting Fiordland National Park.

The oldest recorded bird was over 20 years of age.

Kea, Sheep and Adaptation…

“The Kea has become the stuff of legends, not only in Phillip Temple’s wonderful books but also in the minds of those who have come into contact with this extraordinary bird, the clown of the mountains and, more darkly, the feathered wolf.

In the spring, the Kea digs up large mountain daisies in the alpine grasslands and searches at the edges of the snow mounds and around rocks for low growing plants and insects. In the summer they forage in the alpine shrubs for fruit, seeds and flowers. They feed from rata or mountain flax, lapping up the nectar and pollen and also catch numerous grasshoppers, beetles and grubs. The autumn they spend in the beech forests, eating shoots, leaves and nuts. But the winter is the cruelest time when many die of starvation. They seek animal fat and will tear open carcasses to consume meat and internal organs.

One small community of Keas haunts a desolate valley where the mountains run steeply down into the sea and where there are also colonies of sooty shearwaters, “mutton birds”. The mature birds are not to be seen during the day as they are out fishing but at night they return to their young in nest holes they have dug in the turf among the boulders. The squabs by the time they are four months old have been fed so well on the semi digested fish brought back by their parents that they are full of fat and weigh a couple of pounds. The locals used to harvest them in great numbers. So do the Keas.

A Kea stalks through the warren of shearwater nest holes, bending down every now and then, head cocked to listen. The shearwater chicks crouch silently in their burrows but occasionally they call. The Kea reacts swiftly and starts to dig. Using its beak like a mattock it tears away the earth around their burrow’s entrance and reaches inside. The mutton–bird is not entirely defenseless and may squirt fish oil into the Kea’s face. The beak that is so effective as a mattock now becomes a billhook and rips the young shearwater to pieces.

It is this murderous behavior of the Kea and its propensity to attack merino sheep on high country stations which has made the bird so controversial and led to its persecution, with the slaughter of as many as 150,000 of these birds over the past 130 years. For more than a century biologists have debated its character but more recent research throws new light on its extraordinary behavior and history.

The ancestor of the three species of parrot in the genus Nestor, the Kea, its brown cousin the Kaka and their close relative the Norfolk Island Kaka, probably came from Australia. The ancestral Nestor may have arrived in New Zealand as many as 20 million years ago. With climate change and the separation into smaller islands in the early Pleistocene, two distinct populations developed. The population in the more benign north became Kakas specializing in exploiting fruit and nectar while the southern population living in the harsher environment where beech forest dominated, became Keas, developing the behavioral strategies and food preferences that would help them survive among the ice fields. There the Kea remained, an uncommon species of harsh and marginal habitats, no doubt following the great eagle and other predators for leftovers as well as plaguing the millions of petrels and shearwaters who bred on the mainland, until the first wave of humans arrived.

When forests were burned and the Moas were hunted to extinction and the Polynesian rat eliminated most of the shearwaters from the mainland, Keas shifted to other sources of food. As dietary generalists they were relatively resistant to the environmental changes that forced many other birds into extinction.

The second wave of human settlement brought a bonus to the Kea. While the Kaka declined as the bush was felled and burned, the Kea population exploded with the advent of European settlement of the high country during 1840s and 50s. When sheep began to die in snowfields, Keas rediscovered a lucrative livelihood as scavengers and even attacked live sheep. Numbers increased dramatically. This ability to tolerate massive environmental change and make the most of new opportunities sets the Kea apart from nearly every other island species.

This ability to adapt and survive arises out of the Kea’s social organization and its propensity to play. Like coyotes, crows and humans, Keas are “open–program” animals with an unusual ability to learn and to create new solutions to whatever problems they encounter. Exploring and manipulating the objects in their environment, Keas were selected primarily for individual rather than social learning. In essence keas were selected to play, since only through play could the requisite level of flexibility be achieved. Its boldness, destructiveness and curiosity are aspects of play, scientists say.[1]"


Found in Songbird ReMix Threatened, Endangered, Extinct 3

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