Mountain parrot puts best beak forward

An injured parrot has made a dramatic recovery to become an ambassador for the plight of one of New Zealand’s precious and threatened birds

An injured parrot has made a dramatic recovery to become an ambassador for the plight of one of New Zealand’s precious and threatened birds.

The kea - a rare breed of alpine parrot - is found in forested and mountainous regions of the South Island of New Zealand.

A kea researcher found the injured ‘Kati the Kea’ in a remote part of the rugged West Coast of the South Island - somewhat ironically, at Death’s Corner near Arthur’s Pass.

The parrot had completely lost the upper mandible (top part of her beak) in an unknown mishap.

Fortunately, the researcher was able to capture and care for Kati before taking her to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch for treatment.

Intelligent and curious
Kea are renowned for their intelligence and curiosity - both vital to survival in a harsh alpine environment. The birds can solve logical puzzles and will work cooperatively to achieve an objective - so it should perhaps come as no surprise that Kati managed to overcome the odds.

After a few weeks of tests, Kati was moved to a small cage attached to the Willowbank kea enclosure where she was introduced to the reserve’s flock of resident kea.

During this time, clever Kati figured out how to overcome her disability by using her beak in a grating-like fashion to scrape up pieces of food which she then pulled into her mouth with her tongue.

Social birds
The parrot has an omnivorous diet consisting mainly of roots, leaves, berries, nectar and insects. Once killed for bounty due to their appetite for farming livestock, the kea has received full protection since 1986.

Kea are social birds and live in groups of up to 13. They don’t survive well in isolation so Willowbank keepers were understandably worried that the local kea would reject or harass the new arrival - however the opposite was true.

The other kea were all very interested in the new arrival and began regularly bringing pieces of food and calling to her. Kati even seemed to exercise a special power over the male birds when she was released into the main flight of the aviary where one of the adult males started regurgitating food for her.

Now Kati is reported to be one of the bossiest kea in residence at Willowbank and has been known to kick other kea off the food tray if she is not getting enough food.

The kea’s cheeky entertaining antics have made it one of New Zealand's most iconic birds. Tourists crossing the South Island’s main mountain passes often witness their penchant for anything bright or chewable - including the rubber around car windows.

Kati was lucky to survive her injuries but has found a new life at Willowbank as an ambassador for her species.

Comprehensive wildlife displays
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve - set up over 35 years ago and still run by the same family - is home to one of New Zealand’s most important kiwi breeding programmes and guarantees visitors will come face-to-face with the rare nocturnal birds at close quarters.

Kiwi eggs are transported from other parts of the South Island to Willowbank for incubation, and the breeding programme which has seen 350-plus kiwi returned to the wild since 2005. The project runs in conjunction with the Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Conservation Trust.

The reserve has one of New Zealand’s most comprehensive wildlife displays with the country’s largest and most accessible kiwi viewing area.

More information

Bird conservation in New Zealand

Iconic New Zealand birds

Saving kiwi at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve