Female kea feeding its chick in Fiordland
Image: JamesReardon.org ©

Introduction

The endangered kea is the world's only alpine parrot, and one of the most intelligent birds.

Highlights

Population: 3,000–7,000 estimated
New Zealand status: Endemic
Conservation status: Threatened–Nationally Endangered
Found in: Alpine and forested environments of the South Island
Threats: Predation, competition for food, human impact

Sound recording:

Kea song (MP3, 977K)
01:02 – Kea responding to recordings of their calls.

Species information: Kea on NZ Birds Online

Video

Kea - mountain parrot. Watch at NZ On Screen.

In this section

Kea conservation

The New Zealand kea is a protected species.

Introduced predators kill kea

Like many other native birds, kea suffer from predation by mammals introduced to New Zealand by humans.

Stoats are the primary predators of kea, and cats are also a major threat when cat populations make incursions into kea habitat. Possums are known to prey on kea and disturb nests although they are not as severe a threat as stoats, and rats have also occasionally been observed preying on kea eggs.

Kea are particularly vulnerable because they nest in holes in the ground that are easy to find and get in to.

Monitoring shows that when predators are controlled with well-timed aerial 1080 treatment and/or traps, about 70% of kea nests are successful. 

Still shots of a possum eating a young kea.
Possum caught eating a young kea in Ōkārito Forest

Kea research team

The kea research team has been monitoring nests in areas from South Westland up to Kahurangi National Park and in many places in between. These areas are steep, thickly forested and often snow-covered since kea can begin breeding while there is still snow on the ground, so it is a real challenge to track wild kea, carrying camera equipment and large batteries around.

DOC staff throughout New Zealand are also involved in monitoring trees for signs of heavy seeding. Kea are at risk from predator plagues caused by high levels of seed production ('beech mast'). Battle for our Birds protects kea and other native species from predators.

Minimising the risks from pest control to kea

Results from DOC kea research have led to a better understanding of how to minimise the risk to kea from pest control carried out in kea habitat. There is now a code of practice for aerial 1080 in kea habitat that is followed by all such operations being carried out on Public Conservation Land.

Research indicates that kea living in areas where they regularly come into contact with humans and the associated human food and man made objects are more at risk from pest control operations than those who live in the backcountry where they do not often encounter unnatural food sources. You can help reduce this risk to kea by never feeding them.

Impacts of human activity

The birds' endearing and mischievous behaviour can cause conflict with people, and damage to property especially around campsites and carparks. Although a large number of kea may be watching, it is normally only a few birds which are doing any damage.

You can help

Report sightings of kea

Report kea sightings to the Kea Conservation Trust, or to the nearest DOC office.

Information that is helpful to record is: where you saw it, what date and time you saw it, the band colour combination or numbers if the kea is banded, and what the kea was doing. Photos are especially useful.

Remove temptation

Studies have shown that kea in areas where they are fed regularly are more at risk from pest control and accidents with man-made objects such as cars.

Never feed kea. Feeding kea is harmful to them.

At public sites where kea are present, avoid leaving temptations around such as loose clothing and boots, packs, food and brightly coloured objects.

Remove lead

Lead is attractive to kea because it has a sweet taste to them, however it is also poisonous to them. any kea that have been tested have found to have high lead levels in their blood and kea have been known to die from lead poisoning.

Help protect them by replacing lead nails and flashing on buildings with non-poisonous alternatives.

Join the Kea Conservation Trust

Get involved with the Kea Conservation Trust – become a member, sponsor, volunteer or donate.

Emergency hotline

Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife. 

Help protect our native birds

When visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
  • Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
  • Check your gear for mice and rats when visiting pest-free islands.
  • Leave nesting birds alone.
  • Use available access ways to get to the beach. 
  • Avoid leaving old fishing lines on beaches or in the sea.
  • Follow the water care code and local navigation bylaws.
  • Don't drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.
Other ways to help
  • Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
  • Volunteer with DOC or other groups to control predators and restore bird habitats.
  • Set traps for stoats or rats on your property. Get more information from your local DOC office.
  • Put a bell on your cat's collar, feed it well, and keep it indoors at dusk/dawn and at night.
Back to top