What Do Kea Look Like?
The kea, a parrot native to New Zealand’s South Island, possesses several distinctive physical attributes that set it apart from other birds. In this article, we’ll explore the unique characteristics of the kea, from its appearance and size to its habitat and breeding habits.
The kea is a remarkable parrot with an appearance that reflects its adaptability to New Zealand’s alpine environment. Here’s a closer look at the key features of the kea’s appearance:
The kea’s plumage is primarily olive-emerald green, with striking black edging. Their bright orange and barred yellow and black feathers are typically hidden on the underside of their wings. Interestingly, these orange feathers are also visible in the UV spectrum, a light spectrum that humans cannot see, making them even more captivating to other birds and insects. The kea also boasts royal blue feathers on the top surface of its long flight feathers and red-orange feathers on its rump.
The kea’s beak is long and gracefully curved. Males tend to have longer beaks, around 4.5 – 5 centimeters, while females have slightly smaller beaks, measuring 4 – 4.5 centimeters. This distinct beak shape is an adaptation to their feeding habits, as kea dig for grubs in rotten logs and roots.
Kea are considered the heavyweights among New Zealand’s terrestrial birds. Males typically weigh between 750 grams and 1 kilogram, while females are slightly lighter, ranging from 700 to 850 grams. This weight helps them conserve heat in the freezing alpine environment, making them well-suited to the cold conditions.
How Clever Are Kea?
Kea’s intelligence has long been a subject of fascination among scientists. Some researchers believe that these parrots are incredibly intelligent, possibly on par with a four-year-old child. Various experiments have been conducted to explore the extent of their intelligence, which we’ll delve into later in this article.
Kea are solidly built parrots, measuring approximately 46 centimeters in length, which is roughly the size of a sitting cat. When in flight, their wingspan extends to about one meter.
Where Do Kea Live?
Wild kea populations are exclusively found in New Zealand’s South Island, particularly in and around alpine areas. Their habitats include beech forests along the West Coast, mountain forests in the Southern Alps (stretching from Kahurangi National Park to Fiordland), and mountains as far east as Kaikoura.
Kea form breeding pairs that hold territories of about 4 square kilometers, encompassing the entire spur of a mountain. These territories are crucial for their survival and are analogous to human homes and properties. Kea pairs share these territories with their chicks, sub-adults, and visiting adult males.
How Can You Tell Kea Apart?
Distinguishing between male and female kea by sight alone can be challenging. Males are generally larger and have longer curved beaks. Researchers use various methods, such as measuring beak length, head length, and taking DNA samples to determine their gender.
However, distinguishing between juvenile and adult kea is more straightforward. Young kea have pale feathers on the top of their heads and bright yellow coloration around their eyes, nostrils, and the top of their beaks. As kea mature, these yellow features gradually disappear, and adult kea exhibit dark coloration around the eyes, nostrils, and beak.
Kea are known to mate for life and can breed annually. Females typically lay 2 to 5 eggs per clutch, which are located deep in the ground under beech tree roots or large rock outcrops. The male assists the female during the incubation period, which lasts for about one month.
Once the eggs hatch, the male must work diligently to find food for the female and the chicks, which can be particularly challenging in harsh winter conditions. Chicks leave the nest approximately 12 weeks after hatching.
The kea, with its unique appearance, intelligence, and fascinating behaviors, is a remarkable parrot species found in New Zealand’s alpine environments. Their adaptation to the challenging conditions of the South Island is a testament to the resilience of these remarkable birds. By understanding the distinctive features and characteristics of the kea, we gain a deeper appreciation for this extraordinary avian species.