Why we don’t sell kākā food
An explanation from ZEALANDIA Conservation Manager, Dr. Danielle Shanahan
After being pretty much lost from the area in the early 1900’s, kākā are well and truly back in Wellington. Hundreds of them have been banded since they were introduced at ZEALANDIA in 2002. However, as these raucous parrots adapt to an urban environment, we need to be mindful of a few issues, including feeding kākā.
Feeding kākā the wrong foods can lead to metabolic bone disease, particularly during breeding season as adults bring food back to their nests. Kākā aren’t the greatest judge of what’s best for them and treats like nuts are irresistable. It’s a bit like offering your kids chocolate for every meal; they would probably take it every time despite the health effects.
People often ask us why we don’t sell healthy kākā food in our shop so that people can feed these fabulous birds at home. This has been a challenging dilemma for me, and one I have thought long and hard about.
There are a couple of reasons why we have decided not to sell kākā food.
The first is that once people start feeding kākā a little bit, the news quickly spreads and the number of birds turning up for some ‘fast food’ can quickly rise. We know of some people around Wellington who have ended up with up to 60-70 kākā in their backyard! These kinds of numbers are pretty overwhelming, and it is unhealthy for kākā and unhealthy for the people. We have also seen spikes in rat numbers where kākā feed.
Another aspect of this is protecting people’s property. Unfortunately we do hear of kākā damage and it seems that this happens where kākā can access food easily. Ordinarily, kākā have to work quite hard for their food, but easy access to high-energy food leaves them with time and energy to burn! At the sanctuary we closely control the amount we feed over the day so they also have to forage naturally, and this provides them with some balance.
Finally, there are some nasty diseases that kākā can catch when large numbers are concentrated in one area. For example, some kākā have died due to salmonella, which can pose a risk to humans. Kākā are also susceptible to toxoplasmosis, which again can be fatal. That’s why the hygiene element of feeding birds is so important. Here at ZEALANDIA we have a strict hygiene regime in place which ensures feeding areas are regularly cleaned.
As you can see this is a complex situation.
Ultimately, we are delighted that the kākā population is doing so well in Wellington. We love that locals can experience these special and charasmatic birds in their backyards and reserves! However, feeding is not the best way to enjoy these animals. If you would like to attract kākā to your backyard, please consider planting natives such as kōwhai instead!
Dr Danielle Shanahan
Manager Conservation, Learning, Research and Experience