This forest-dwelling parrot is a cousin of the mischievous alpine parrot, the kea, and is one of our most visible and engaging birds. There are two sub-species: the North Island kākā (N m. septentrionalis) and the South Island kākā (N m. meridionalis).
The kākā is a large, olive-brown forest parrot with flashes of crimson and orange plumage under their wings. They have a strong curved beak that they use for climbing and for stripping bark from trees to feed on grubs and sap. Kākā also have a brush-tipped tongue that they use to drink nectar from flowers. They can be seen feeding on kōwhai, rātā and flax when they are in bloom.
Like most parrots, the kākā is social and intelligent. You can often hear them and see them socialising in large flocks. The word kākā can mean ‘screech’ in Māori, named after their loud ‘skrark’ call. Kākā can also produce some beautiful songs and whistles that can vary significantly as regional dialects. These parrots are diurnal (active during the day) but can sometimes be heard screeching and chatting throughout the night.
Kākā had effectively been extinct in Wellington since the early 20th century until they were transferred back into the wild at Zealandia in 2002. A total of fourteen captive-bred kākā were transferred to ZEALANDIA from zoos between 2002 and 2007, and since then, they have become one of our biggest success stories. Kākā breeding at ZEALANDIA has been closely monitored with the use of nest boxes, specially designed nest containers throughout the sanctuary, where we can track the eggs and monitor chicks until they are big enough to be given coloured leg bands to uniquely identify each bird.
By the end of the 2015/16 breeding season, ZEALANDIA had banded over 750 kākā. More and more un-banded kākā are showing up at feeding sites, indicating that kākā are now also breeding in natural nest sites both inside and outside of ZEALANDIA. Breeding at ZEALANDIA has been so prolific that in 2016 we ended our intensive nest box monitoring programme and ZEALANDIA’s kākā population is now a source for translocations to other sanctuaries. In March 2016, ZEALANDIA translocated 10 juvenile kākā to Cape Sanctuary in Hawke’s Bay.
Despite this breeding success, kaka are facing many challenges adjusting to an urban environment. Dangers include lead poisoning from paint, lead flashings and nails, metabolic bone disease from being fed inappropriate food, and nest predation for those birds breeding outside the safety of the ZEALANDIA fence.