Night Parrot or Kakapo Owl Parrot inappropriate as it is the name of an unrelated Australian species.
DESCRIPTION Length 64 cm. Weight males 1.5–3.0 kg, females 950 g–1.6 kg.
The Strangest Parrot in the World Modern Dinosaurs
The kakapo also called owl parrot The Night Parrot
ADULTS Upperparts bright green irregularly barred and streaked dark brown and yellow; underparts greenish-yellow irregularly barred paler lemon-yellow and light brown; variable yellow superciliary band; forehead and facial disc yellowish-brown, feathers with paler centers and darker tips; wings and tail dull green barred brown and dull yellow; bill pale grey becoming horn colored on lower mandible; iris dark brown; legs bluish-grey in males, pale pinkish-grey in females. 10 males: wing 265–284 (272.6) mm, tail 203–250 (222.6) mm, exp. cul. 34–43 (38.0) mm, tarsus 45–57 (51.8) mm. 10 females: wing 252–285 (269.1) mm, tail 205–238 (220.3) mm, exp. cul. 35–37 (36.4) mm, tarsus 46–56 (49.6) mm. JUVENILES Like adults, but general plumage coloration duller; forehead and less prominent facial disc more brownish, less yellowish; pointed, not rounded tips to outermost primaries; bill pale yellowish-white.
DISTRIBUTION New Zealand were formerly widespread on North, South and Stewart Islands, but now present on only three offshore islands – Anchor and Codfish Islands in the south, and Little Barrier Island in the north. GENERAL NOTES Oliver (1955) noted that the Kakapo Owl Parrot was mentioned by Ernst Dieffenbach in his Travels in New Zealand, published in 1843, but he had not seen a specimen, and the first ENDANGERED the specimen to reach Europe was collected at Dusky Sound, South Island, and forwarded to England in 1845.
Another specimen collected at Milford Sound, South Island, in 1851, was presented to the British Museum and, in 1861–1862, Julius von Haast and James Hector found the parrots to be quite numerous along the west coast of South Island. In the second edition of his A History of the Birds of New Zealand, published in 1888, Walter Buller referred to the Kakapo as being remarkable and made reference to the comment made by Philip Sclater, then-Secretary of the Zoological Society of London: This is one of the very remarkable forms peculiar to New Zealand, and has been appropriately termed an Owl Parrot. Dr. Sclater refers to it as ‘one of the most wonderful, perhaps, of all living birds’.
As its name Stringops indicates, its face bears a superficial likeness to that of an Owl. In all the essential characteristics of the structure, it is a true Parrot; but in the possession of a facial disk (in which it differs from all other known parrots), in the soft texture of its plumage, and especially in its decidedly nocturnal habits, it betrays a striking resemblance to the Owl tribe.
The more we learn about this amazing parrot, the more appropriate becomes the statement by Sclater. That the Kakapo Owl Parrot is unlike any other parrot in appearance and behavior was brought home to me in September 1976, on Maud Island, where I observed males that had been brought to the island from Fiordland. Their large size, strong legs and feet, and cryptic plumage coloration are features indicative of a terrestrial lifestyle and, while watching a bird moving through the undergrowth in a peculiarly shuffling manner, I was left with the impression that here indeed was a parrot that had survived virtually unchanged from ancient times in an isolated environment without predators.
STATUS Subfossil bones show that prior to Maori settlement in New Zealand, approximately 1300 years ago, Kakapo Owl Parrot was widespread on North and South Islands, being most common in high rainfall areas west of the most divide where rimu Dacrydium cupressinum and Nothofagus beech trees dominated the forest canopies Worthy and Holdaway 2002. Subfossil remains have not been found on Stewart Island, so it has been suggested that
the population there may have originated from liberations by Maori in pre-European times or from Fiordland birds liberated there in the 1880s (Powlesland et al. 2006). The range contracted substantially after Maori settlement, especially in North Island.
Tipa (2006) notes that dogs were used by Maori hunters to capture and kill the parrots for meat, skins, and feathers. The meat was regarded as a delicacy, feathers were used for head adornments, and skins with the feathers intact were softened to make dress capes and cloaks. Dogs became feral and, together with Pacific Rats or more Rattus exulans, probably initiated a long history of predation by introduced mammals. The widespread burning of the forest, shrublands and tussock grasslands by Maori may have caused local extinctions, especially in drier eastern and central
regions of South Island (Powlesland et al. 2006).
At the time of European colonization during the late 18th century, Kakapo Owl Parrot still occurred in parts of central North Island and was reported from the Hunua Range, south of Auckland, as late as 1912 (McKenzie 1979). They were extinct in eastern regions of South Island but remained common in some higher-rainfall areas in northern, western and southern regions (Lloyd and Powlesland 1994). Land clearance by European settlers after the early 1800s probably did not impact significantly on the population because by then the parrots already were confined to scattered remote areas, and predation by feral cats, together with habitat destruction by feral herbivores, probably were responsible for only local declines. After 1880, the situation changed dramatically when the introduction and establishment of three species of
mustelids, Black Rats Rattus rattus, several species of deer, and Australian Brush-tailed Possums Trichosurus vulpecula brought about a rapid decline.
Predation by mustelids undoubtedly was the main cause of this decline, with the spread of Black Rats, which would have taken eggs and chicks as well as competed with adults for food, being a contributing factor. Competition for food and habitat degradation by deer and possums would have inhibited successful breeding. By the early 1900s, Kakapo Owl Parrot had become extinct in North Island and had disappeared from northern parts of South Island, with the last remaining stronghold confined to remote subalpine valleys in Fiordland in southwestern South Island. The decline in the Fiordland population had been noted in the late 1800s, and it also succumbed to the same pressures of predation and habitat degradation, so that by the 1970s it was reduced to a few aged males scattered in less accessible parts of a few remote valleys (Merton 1985; Butler 1989). Of 18 males found in Fiordland during the 1970s, five were transferred to
offshore islands and none of the remaining 13 are known to have survived beyond 1987 (Clout and Craig 1995).
Earlier reports of sightings of Kakapo Owl Parrot on Stewart Island were investigated in 1977, and a population estimated to comprise between 100 and 200 birds of both sexes was found in an area of some 8000 ha of modified scrubland and forest (Powlesland et al. 1995). There are no mustelids on Stewart Island, but feral cats are present, and evidence of predation by feral cats was recorded, with the remains of 15 Kakapo Owl Parrot killed by cats being found during 1980–1982 (Best and Powlesland 1985). The predation rate on radio-tagged adult Kakapo Owl Parrot reached 56 percent during 1981–1982, so an intensive cat control program was commenced in 1982, and no further remains of cat-killed Kakapo were found. However, to ensure the survival of remaining birds, 38 males, and 24 females, the total number that could be found were translocated to islands free of mustelids and cats, but not Pacific Rats. The last accepted record for North Island was from the Huiarau Range in 1927, the last South Island record was of three males in
The owl parrot
Fiordland in 1987 and the last record for Stewart Island was of a female found and transferred to Codfish Island in 1997. Kakapo now is extinct in their natural range, and all surviving birds are in intensively managed populations on three offshore islands. In 1995, the population reached its lowest level, with just 30 males and 21 females surviving, but in that year the introduction of new management procedures, including the eradication of Pacific Rats from Codfish Island, the provision of food supplements to nesting females, and intensive monitoring with intervention when necessary, brought about a significant increase in nesting success (Elliott et al. 2006). Furthermore, the survival of adults on these islands has been remarkably high, averaging only about 1.3 percent mortality per annum. In November 2005, the population
comprised 45 males and 41 females. with 40 or 45 percent being reared on the islands.
At the time of writing the population of 125 birds comprises many younger birds and an equal ratio of males and females. All females are from Stewart Island, and the resulting lack of genetic diversity has given rise to high levels of infertility, which is a major problem inhibiting the recovery effort. On average only 60 percent of eggs are fertile, and in the 2014 breeding season, the fertility level dropped to 40 percent. Artificial insemination is being used in an effort to improve the fertility rate and, if the behavior of sitting females causes concern, their eggs are taken for artificial incubation. Wherever possible chicks are reared by their mother or by a foster mother, but they will be hand-reared if necessary. The Kakapo is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International trade species of untamed Fauna and Flora (CITES).
HABITATS Williams (1956) noted that Kakapo occurred in higher rainfall areas up to 1250 m, and primarily were birds of the mossy Nothofagus forest, especially where these forests adjoined open country along river flats or the subalpine scrub belt bordering meadows of Danthonia tussocks above the tree-line. Williams also cautioned that records of higher abundance at altitudes of 1000 m and above may be a reflection of signs of their presence, namely tracks, bowls and chewed vegetation, being more easily detected in less densely vegetated places.
There were occasional sightings in predominantly podocarp forest, but such occurrences were few. Other authors make mention of the prevalence of Rimu Dacrydium cupressinum, a favored food tree, in preferred habitats. Atkinson and Merton (2006) report that in February–March 1974, ground traverses, line transects and aerial photographs were used to describe and map the home ranges, or more appropriately the ‘core home ranges’, of two Kakapo living in the Esperance River valley, Fiordland, South Island.
The first home range of only 1.8 ha was at an altitude of approximately 700 m on a gently sloping river terrace on the right bank of the river, well above normal flood levels and on the more sunny side of the valley. Averaging a meter in height, scrub featuring snow totara Podocarpus nivalis and of varying composition covered most of this home range, with 90 percent of the canopy comprising shrubs and the groundcover consisting of grasses, herbs, mosses, and ferns. Some 51 percent of the shrubs were species with succulent berries, including Coprosma, Gaultheria and Coriaria shrubs and weeping matipo Myrsine divaricata, with tall Chionochloa tussocks scattered throughout and herbaceous plants abundant in the groundcover.
The more intensively used central part of the range was characterized by a significantly lower canopy, together with an increased prevalence of turpentine bush Dracophyllum uniflorum and a lower abundance of muttonbird scrub Brachyglottis rotundifolia and weeping matipo. The distribution of feeding signs, feathers, and droppings, as well as nocturnal observations, indicated that this Kakapo Owl Parrot was not penetrating the forest beyond a distance of 500 m, and large tracts of the forest margin showed no evidence of the bird’s presence.
Some 4 ha in area, the second home range was at a distance of 0.5 km from the first home range, and at approximately 850 m altitude was sited on a very steep, northwest facing valley wall with shrubland dominated by kiokio fern Blechnum novae-zelandiae and low forest of silver beech Nothofagus menziesii being alternating parallel stands of vegetation up and down the slope. The fern shrubland averaged 0.7 m in height, with 40 percent of the canopy comprising shrubs, 30 percent consisting mostly of kiokio fern and mountain flax Phormium cookianum, and the remainder comprising herbs, grasses, and sedges.
The forest of silver beech varied in height from 21 m in the lower half of the range down to 6 m at the treeline and, of the many species in the understorey, Pseudopanax simplex, hupiro Coprosma foetidissima and weeping matipo were particularly common. Where the canopy was more open, muttonbird scrub and juvenile silver beech were present. More than 50 percent of the groundcover consisted of the mountain kiokio Blechnum procerum, and there were numerous fallen tree trunks, stumps, and loose rocks. Foliose lichens were abundant on trunks of the beech trees, and mosses were prevalent on the northern side of these trunks. No part of this home range appeared to be used more intensively than other sections.