The New Zealand kaka parrot is a species of the family Nestoridae found in native forests of New Zealand
Psittacus meridionalis Gmelin, Syst. Nat., 1, pt. 1, 1788, p. 333. (New Zealand = Dusky Sound, South Island, ex Latham.)
OTHER NAME Kaka Parrot
New Zealand kaka
DESCRIPTION Length 45 cm. Weight males 383–575 g, females 494–500 g.
ADULTS Forehead, crown, and occiput pale greyish-white, almost white and feathers sometimes margined dull green; nape greyish-brown, feathers marked olive-brown; neck and abdomen brownish-red, noticeably more crimson on hindneck where feathers finely tipped yellow and dark brown
breast olive-brown; ear-coverts orange-yellow; back and wings greenish-brown, on mantle some feathers tipped red; tail-coverts crimson barred dark brown; underwing-coverts and undersides of flight feathers scarlet; tail brownish, tipped paler; brownish-grey bill longer and more curved in male; iris dark brown; legs dark grey.
New Zealand, were present on North, South and Stewart Islands, and some offshore islands; formerly on the Chatham Islands.
SOURCE: Henry the PaleoGuy
The nominate subspecies, as described above, occurs on South Island, mostly west of the Southern Alps, on Stewart Island, and on some offshore islands, including Big South Cape and Codfish Islands and the Chetwode Islands.
2. N. m. septentrionalis Lorenz Nestor septentrionalis Lorenz, Verh. zool.-bot. Ges. Wien, 46,
1896, p. 198. (North Island, New Zealand.)
ADULTS overall plumage coloration duller; forehead, crown and occiput dull grey; back and wings darker olive-brown, feathers edged darker brown; breast darker brown; less crimson on hindneck; slightly smaller size; weight males 320–555 grams, females 210–455 grams. 8 males: wing 267–272 (269.4) mm, tail 140–161 (152.1) mm, exp. cul. 41–50 (46.6) mm, tarsus 34–36 (35.0) mm. 7 females: wing 256–271 (263.0) mm, tail 140–154 (150.6) mm, exp. cul. 39–44 (41.3) mm, tarsus 33–37 (35.1) mm. Occurs on North Island, and some offshore islands
STATUS Subfossil material indicate that New Zealand Kaka was widespread and common throughout North Island, South Island and Stewart Island, and they were abundant at the time of European settlement, but by the early 1900s, they had declined to localized flocks (Heather and Robertson 2015). Buller (1888) noted that they were ‘met with, more or less in every part of the country’, and it was claimed that thousands were killed when large flocks came to feed on favored seasonal foods, such as nectar from flowering rata Metrosideros robusta.
They were widely hunted by Maori for food and for feathers used to make cloaks, and principal methods of capture were with snared perches placed around a decoy bird or spearing and striking birds attracted by a decoy (in Oliver 1955).
However, it is widespread land clearance following European settlement and the introduction of mammalian predators that were responsible for dramatic declines in numbers. Clearfelling of native forests, competition from introduced Brush-tailed Possums Trichosurus vulpecula and rats for fruits,
competition from introduced Vespula wasps for honeydew, and predation by introduced mustelids have been identified as major causes of strong declines in local populations. Nesting females are killed more easily by mustelids and possums, so producing the very skewed sex ratio in favor of males recorded in many populations on the main islands (Heather and Robertson 2015).
Beggs and Wilson (1991) report that at Big Bush State Forest, in the north of South Island, between November and early January in each year from 1985 to 1990, at a site in Nothofagus forest modified by introduced browsing mammals, field studies were undertaken to examine factors influencing the ability of Kaka to breed successfully where habitat quality has been reduced by introduced browsing mammals and Vespula social wasps, and where introduced predators are present. These investigations were undertaken because of earlier studies of a remnant population on
South Island had suggested that energy may be a limiting factor for the following reasons: (i) Kaka may expend more energy than they gain while obtaining one of their major protein foods, larvae of Kanuka Longhorn Beetles Ochrocydus huttoni, which are extracted from the trunks of living mountain beech Nothofagus solandri, (ii) Nothofagus forests have a small range of foods with a high net energy return, and this range is reduced further by browsing mammals such as possums, (iii) the availability of the major remaining source of energy, honeydew produced by the scale insect
Ultracoelostoma assimile is greatly reduced by introduced Vespula wasps at certain times of the year. Of the 31 birds fitted with radio transmitters during the six years of the study, only two pairs attempted to breed, and only one of
these attempts was successful with two chicks fledging.
The only successful nest was protected by wrapping aluminum sheeting around the trunk of the tree to exclude mustelids, but the female from this nest used a different site the next year and was killed, presumably by a Stoat Mustela erminea. Not only were Kaka absent when wasps were numerous, no birds fitted with radio transmitters were seen feeding on honeydew, so for about four months of the year the presence of wasps so reduced the energy value of honeydew
and probably the potential feeding rate, that honeydew was no longer a worthwhile source of energy for the parrots. It is suspected that this loss of honeydew as an energy source was the reason for only one successful nesting in the six years of the study. Beggs and Wilson point out that, although the life expectancy of Kaka is not known, successful breeding by only one pair of 31 birds in five years is a low reproductive rate for even a long-lived species, and is unlikely to compensate for mortality by predation.
On North Island, Kaka now are either absent or rare in most regions, with remnant populations restricted to larger tracts of podocarp-hardwood forest in central districts and some predator-free offshore islands, and on South Island, mostly west of the Southern Alps, they are widespread, though in declining numbers, through larger tracts of Nothofagus and podocarp-hardwood forests (in Powlesland et al. 2009).
While intensive and sustained pest control has dramatically improved the density and sex ratio of populations in a few districts where mammalian pest control is carried out, Kaka is declining throughout the remainder of the range. It is estimated that in the past 100 years there has been a decline of approximately 60 percent in the total population and in habitat area, and the present population is estimated at 1000– 5000 mature individuals.
Subfossil remains, possibly of this species, were recorded on the Chatham Islands, where the birds are thought to have become extinct before 1871 (in Higgins 1999).
HABITATS Kaka are forest birds, frequenting mostly unmodified indigenous, temperate rainforest, but occurring also in low broadleaf forests comprising trees such as Tawa Beilshmiedia Tawa, hinau Elaeocarpus dentatus, kohekhe Dysoxylum spectabile, rata Metrosideros excelsa and kamahi Weinmannia racemose, usually with much epiphytic growth and a diverse undergrowth featuring a prevalence of ferns, and tall podocarp forest dominated by totara Podocarpus totara, rimu Dacrydium cupressinum, rata, miro Prumnopitys ferruginea and matai P. taxifolia (in Higgins 1999).
They have been recorded also in Nothofagus forests with a sparse understorey or mixed podocarp-broadleaf-beech forests, but rarely in Leptospermum scrubland or logged areas, including stands of dense regrowth. They usually do not adapt to altered landscapes, but small numbers may remain in remnant patches of forest, and occasionally venture into farmlands, orchards, and urban gardens or parklands, the last being utilized more commonly on Stewart Island.