Matomo-Image-Tracker Psittaciformes - Nestor - Kea Parrot


Kea - Nestor Notabilis - Endangered

The Kea is a species of large parrot in the family Nestoridae found in the forested and alpine regions of the South Island of New Zealand. About 48 cm (19 in) long, it is mostly olive-green with a brilliant orange under its wings and has a large, narrow, curved, grey-brown upper beak. The kea is the world's only alpine parrot. Its omnivorous diet includes carrion, but consists mainly of roots, leaves, berries, nectar, and insects. Now uncommon, the kea was once killed for bounty due to concerns by the sheep-farming community that it attacked livestock, especially sheep. In 1986, it received full protection under the Wildlife Act.

The kea nests in burrows or crevices among the roots of trees. 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. They have been filmed preparing and using tools.


The kea is a large parrot about 48 cm (19 in) long and weighs between 800 grams (1.8 lb) and 1 kilogram (2.2 lb). It has mostly olive-green plumage with a grey beak having a long, narrow, curved upper beak. The adult has dark-brown irises, and the cere, eye-rings, and legs are grey. It has orange feathers on the undersides of its wings. The feathers on the sides of its face are dark olive-brown, feathers on its back and rump are orange-red, and some of the outer wing are dull-blue. It has a short, broad, bluish-green tail with a black tip. Feather shafts project at the tip of the tail and the undersides of the inner tail feathers have yellow-orange transverse stripes. The male is about 5% longer than the female, and the male's upper beak is 12–14% longer than the female's. Juveniles generally resemble adults, but have yellow eye-rings and cere, an orange-yellow lower beak, and grey-yellow legs. Juveniles have yellow eye-rings and cere, an orange-yellow lower beak, and grey-yellow legs

Distribution and habitat

The kea is one of ten endemic parrot species in New Zealand.

The kea ranges from lowland river valleys and coastal forests of the South Island's west coast up to the alpine regions of the South Island such as Arthur's Pass and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, closely associated throughout its range with the southern beech (Nothofagus) forests in the alpine ridge. Apart from occasional vagrants, kea are not found in the North Island, although fossil evidence suggests a population lived there over 10,000 years ago.


At least one observer has reported that the kea is polygynous, with one male attached to multiple females. The same source also noted that there was a surplus of females.

Kea are social and live in groups of up to 13 birds. Isolated individuals do badly in captivity, but respond well to mirror images.

In one study, nest sites occur at a density of one per 4.4 square kilometres (1.7 sq mi).[29] The breeding areas are most commonly in southern beech (Nothofagus) forests, located on steep mountainsides. Breeding at heights of 1,600 metres (5,200 ft) above sea level and higher, it is one of the few parrot species in the world to regularly spend time above the tree line. Nest sites are usually positioned on the ground underneath large beech trees, in rock crevices, or dug burrows between roots. They are accessed by tunnels leading back 1 to 6 meters (3.3 to 19.7 ft) 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.

Mortality is high among young kea, with less than 40% surviving their first year. The median lifespan of a wild subadult kea has been estimated at five years, based on the proportion of kea seen again in successive seasons in Arthur's Pass, and allowing for some emigration to surrounding areas. Around 10% of the local kea population were expected to be over 20 years of age. The oldest known captive kea was 50 years old in 2008.

Diet and feeding

An omnivore, the kea feeds on more than 40 plant species, beetle larvae, other birds (including shearwater chicks), and mammals (including sheep and rabbits). It has been observed breaking open shearwater nests to feed on the chicks after hearing the chicks in their nests. The kea has also taken advantage of human garbage and "gifts" of food.

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Psittaciformes, The Parrot Index, a part of Phoenix Feathers © 2016 - 2023
Page last updated: 1/1/2320

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