The Kākā Diaries
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that to be a kākā monitor you need patience, focus, dedication, a sense of humour and reliable waterproofs.
Not necessarily in that order.
We all have stories to share. Mine include:
- What’s in a Name? Ask Ebenezer, Fezziwig, Kermit, (un)Lucky and Miss Ellie.
- The Kaka Wars
- The Big O.E. (outside experience)
- The Morepork Squatter
- The Falcon Ambush
- Wet Wet Wet
You’re only going to hear about a couple of them in this blog. People, like kākā, have short attention spans. But you’ll get the gist of why nestbox monitors sign on to wait for an hour or more, at a respectful distance from nestboxes, binoculars in hand, watching for exists and entrances, often in the rain and cold. Take your eyes off the box and you can guarantee that’s when Mama kākā will nip in or out and you have to start over.
The rewards for all this waiting however are many and totally fulfilling.
Monitors get to know individual kākā from eggs (sometimes even conception!) to adulthood, thanks to our banding programme. They each have their own distinct personalities. Some are lucky in love and you follow several generations. Others may never find a soulmate or may head out of the valley to a less certain future. You never know.
But here are a couple of stories from my six years co-monitoring the same four sites. I love my route. Unlike some of my fellow monitors, I don’t need to climb ropes, wade streams or use boot spikes to get to my charges once a week over the breeding season.
Before we start, some useful information if any of the next bit is to make sense.
There are dozens of kākā nestboxes throughout the ZEALANDIA’S sanctuary valley, offering a safe alternative to their favourite nesting sites – the bases of hollowed out old trees. Zealandia’s vegetation is too young to offer many of these but kākā quickly adapted to the purpose designed and built alternatives.
As breeding season approaches, volunteers take on specific routes with 3-4 boxes and these are checked twice a week for around six months, as some pairs may have two clutches a season, and some seasons – like this year – start early (mid-August).
Most Zealandia kākā are banded, with a single cohort band indicating their birth year, and two smaller coloured bands on the other leg, giving them their unique combination. They are banded a couple of weeks before they’re due to leave the nest.
What’s in a Name?
Kākā nestbox monitors often use band combinations to inspire names: LO-V (Aroha), W-BB (Weeble) and WB-B (Wobble), KG-O (Cargo), P-YB (Pinky B), PW-L (Pawla), BG-Y (Budgie) and MY-G (Midge) who was the 500th kākā to be banded at Zealandia.
Some get a bit more creative – (LG-G, which are the colours: Lime and Green) is Kermit (because it’s not easy being green). Pizza Boy (YG-L) suddenly turned up at the door of abandoned female who was incubating eggs and started feeding her. Kevin is V-PG, very protective guy, think the movie The Bodyguard played by Kevin Costner. Monitors have a lot of time to think up names waiting outside nestboxes (see above).
Sometimes you attach a name because it’s front of mind – an unbanded female is Miss Ellie in honour of Ellie Catton’s Man Booker Prize win. The first two chicks I named hatched at Xmas time so they were named after Dickens’ Ebenezer and Fezziwig. Until they got their bands and became LK-Y (Lucky) and Y-YO (Yoyo).
Which leads nicely into:
The Kaka Wars
Yoyo made two bad decisions the first year she decided to breed. One was her useless choice of partner, Captain Beaky, who was charming but disappeared once he’d had his way with her. The second was her choice of nestbox, right next to another one where senior bird Pawla had her own big clutch of chicks. Pawla and her protective partner Arnie made Yoyo’s life hell, even going into the nestbox. We hadn’t witnessed this kind of behaviour before. With some supplementary food supplied, because Yoyo was reluctant to leave her own surviving chick, things were resolved once Pawla’s chicks fledged. Yoyo’s chick Kermit (see above) grew into a big strong kākā seen since at Zealandia feeders.
The Big O.E.
Mr and Mrs White, who both have large white cohort leg bands, made Zealandian history by being the first couple to have one of their chicks filmed when it first left the nest. It took five (long) days of watching and waiting. There were many false starts, followed by reassurances by the parents.
Finally, at 7.10am on the 5th day, a brave kaka struggled out of the nest box, almost fell off the perch, and quickly and inelegantly retreated back into the box. After about half an hour he tried again, did fall to the ground (not far and no harm done) and was quickly joined on the ground by Mrs White, who lead him up a bank. The chicks can’t fly for around a week until they build up their wing strength.
The other tales can wait for another day. All the other nestbox monitors have their own set of stories. It can be tiring, wet, frustrating work but it’s always eventful and satisfying work.
Watch a kākā fledge on Youtube!
Photo journal by volunteer kākā nest monitor Lynn Freeman
Lynn Freeman and Kermit Kākā shortly after being banded and named. Photo by Judi Miller (Main image)
Chicks about 2 weeks old at the “alien-muppet” stage. Photo by Lynn Freeman
The stunning Miss Ellie, who graces the front cover of the Zealandia 2016 calendar, available in the Zealandia gift shop. Photo by Judi Miller
Lucky and Yoyo in their nestbox. Photo by Linton Miller
Kermit drinking nutritious Wombaroo at the feeding stations. Photo by Judi Miller
A kākā nestling fledges from its nestbox. Photos by Lynn Freeman