- Art Gallery -

Nestor notabilis

Nestor notabilis (*)

Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Classis: Aves
Subclassis: Carinatae
Infraclassis: Neornithes
Parvclassis: Neognathae
Ordo: Psittaciformes
Familia: Nestoridae
Tribus: Nestorini
Genus: Nestor
Species: Nestor notabilis


Nestor notabilis Gould, 1856

Vernacular names
Dansk: Kea
Deutsch: Kea
English: Kea
Esperanto: Keo
Français: Kéa
עברית: קיאה
Magyar: Kea
Bahasa Indonesia: Kea
日本語: ミヤマオウム
한국어: 케아앵무
Māori: Kea
Nederlands: Kea
Polski: Kea
Română: Kea
Русский: Кеа
Suomi: Kea
Svenska: Kea

The Kea (pronounced /ˈkeɪ.ə/; Māori: [kɛ.a]) (Nestor notabilis) is a large species of parrot (family Strigopidae) found in forested and alpine regions of the South Island of New Zealand. Measuring around 48 cm (19 in) in length, it is mostly olive-green and has a large narrow curved grey-brown upper beak. The Kea is one of the few alpine parrots in the world. Its omnivorous diet includes carrion[2] but consists mainly of roots, leaves, berries, nectar, and insects. Now uncommon, the Kea was once killed for bounty as it preyed on livestock, especially sheep. It only received full protection in 1986.[3]

The Kea nests in burrows or crevices among the roots of trees. Kea are known for their intelligence and curiosity, both vital to their survival in a harsh mountain environment. Kea can solve logical puzzles, such as pushing and pulling things in a certain order to get to food, and will work together to achieve a certain objective.[4]

Taxonomy and naming

The Kea was described by ornithologist John Gould in 1856.[5] Its specific epithet, the Latin term notabilis, means "noteworthy".[6] The common name is from Māori, probably representing the screech of the bird.[7] The term Kea is both singular and plural.

The genus Nestor contains four species: the New Zealand Kaka (Nestor meridionalis), the Kea (N. notabilis), and the extinct Norfolk Island Kākā (N. productus) and Chatham Island Kākā (N. sp.). All four are thought to stem from a "proto-Kākā", dwelling in the forests of New Zealand five million years ago.[8][9] Their closest relative is the Kākāpō (Strigops habroptila).[8][9][10][11] Together, they form the parrot family Strigopidae, an ancient group that split off from all other Psittacidae before their radiation.[8][9][11][12]


The Kea is a large parrot about 48 cm (19 in) long and weighing about 1 kg (2.2 lb). It has mostly olive-green plumage with a grey beak having a long narrow curved upper beak. The adult has dark-brown irises, and the cere, eyerings, and legs are grey. It has orange feathers on the undersides of its wings. The feathers on the sides of its face are dark olive-brown, feathers on its back and rump are orange-red, and some of the outer wing feathers are dull-blue. It has a short and broad bluish-green tail with a black tip. Feather shafts project at the tip of the tail and the undersides of the inner tail feathers have yellow-orange transverse stripes.[13] The male is about 5% longer than the female, and the male's upper beak is 12–14% longer than the female's.[14] Juveniles generally resemble adults, but have yellow eyerings and cere, an orange-yellow lower beak, and grey-yellow legs.[13]

Juveniles have yellow eyerings and cere, an orange-yellow lower beak, and grey-yellow legs
Distribution and habitat

The Kea (Nestor notabilis) is one of ten parrot species endemic to New Zealand. The other mainland species are the Kākā (Nestor meridionalis), the Kākāpō (Strigops habroptila), and three species of Kākāriki: the Yellow-crowned Parakeet (Cyanoramphus auriceps), the Red-fronted Parakeet (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae) and the Orange-crowned Parakeet (Cyanoramphus malherbi). The other New Zealand parrot species are the Chatham Island Kākā (N. sp.) and Chatham Parakeet (Cyanoramphus forbesi), from the Chatham Islands, and the Antipodes Island Parakeet (Cyanoramphus unicolor)) and Reischek's Parakeet (Cyanoramphus hochstetteri), endemic to Antipodes Island. An unidentified parakeet also lived on Campbell Island, but was extinct by 1840.[15]
Subadult Kea in its alpine habitat

The Kea ranges from lowland river valleys and coastal forests of the westcoast up to the alpine regions of the South Island such as Arthur's Pass and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, closely associated throughout its range with the southern beech (Nothofagus) forests in the alpine ridge. Apart from occasional vagrants, Kea are not found in the North Island, although fossil evidence suggests a population lived there over 10,000 years ago.[16]

The population was estimated at between 1,000 and 5,000 individuals in 1986,[17] contrasting with another estimate of 15,000 birds in 1992.[18] Both estimates depend heavily upon the assumptions made.[18] The Kea's widespread distribution at low density across inaccessible areas prevents accurate estimates.[19][20]

Interactions with humans

The Kea's notorious urge to explore and manipulate, combined with strong neophilia, makes this bird a pest for residents and an attraction for tourists. Called "the clown of the mountains", it will investigate backpacks, boots or even cars, often causing damage or flying off with smaller items.

People commonly encounter wild Kea at South Island ski areas. The Kea are attracted by the prospect of food scraps. Their curiosity leads them to peck and carry away unguarded items of clothing or to pry apart rubber parts of cars—to the entertainment and annoyance of human observers. They are often described as "cheeky". A Kea has even been reported to have made off with a Scottish man's passport while he was visiting Fiordland National Park.[21]

Life span

Mortality is high among young Kea, with less than 40% surviving their first year.[22] The median lifespan of a wild subadult Kea has been estimated at 5 years, based on the proportion of Kea seen again in successive seasons in Arthur's Pass, and allowing for some emigration to surrounding areas. Around 10% of the local Kea population were expected to be over 20 years of age.[18] The oldest known captive Kea was 50 years old in 2008.[22]


At least one observer has reported that the Kea is polygamous, with one male attached to multiple females. The same source noted that there was a surplus of females.[23]

Kea are social and live in groups of up to 13 birds.[24] Isolated individuals do badly in captivity but respond well to mirror images.[25]

In one study, nest sites occur at a density of 1 per 4.4 km².[20] The breeding areas are most commonly in Southern Beech (Nothofagus) forests, located on steep mountain sides. Breeding at heights of 1600 m above sea level and higher, it is one of the few parrot species in the world to regularly spend time above tree line. Nest sites are usually positioned on the ground underneath large beech trees, in rock crevices or dug burrows between roots. They are accessed by tunnels leading back 1 m to 6 m into a larger chamber, which is furnished with lichens, moss, ferns and rotting wood. The laying period starts in July and reaches into January.[26] Two to five white eggs are laid, with an incubation time of around 21 days, and a brooding period of 94 days.[27]


An omnivore, the Kea feeds on more than 40 plant species (Tab. 1), beetle larva, other birds (including shearwater chicks) and mammals (including sheep and rabbits).[4][24] It has been observed breaking open shearwater nests to feed on the chicks after hearing the chicks in their nests.[28] The Kea has also taken advantage of human garbage and "gifts" of food.[29] In captivity, the bird is fond of butter, nuts, apples, carrots, grapes, mangoes, figs, bread, dairy products, ground meat and pasta.
Sheep killed by Kea in July 1907

There was a long-running controversy about whether the Kea preys on sheep. Sheep suffering from unusual wounds on their sides or loin were noticed by the mid-1860s, within a decade of sheep farmers moving into the high country. Although some supposed the cause was a new disease, suspicion soon fell on the Kea. James MacDonald, head shepherd at Wanaka Station, witnessed a Kea attacking a sheep in 1868, and similar accounts were widespread.[2] Prominent members of the scientific community accepted that Kea attacked sheep, with Alfred Wallace citing this as an example of behavioural change in his 1889 book Darwinism. Despite substantial anecdotal evidence of these attacks,[2][30] however, others remained unconvinced, especially in later years. For instance, in 1962, animal specialist J.R. Jackson concluded that while the bird may attack sick or injured sheep, especially if it mistook them for dead, it was not a significant predator.[31] In 1993, however, its nocturnal assaults were captured on video,[4] proving that at least some Kea will attack and feed on healthy sheep. The video confirmed what many scientists had long suspected, that the Kea uses its powerful curved beak and claws to rip through the layer of wool and eat the fat from the back of the animal. Though the bird does not directly kill the sheep, death can result from blood poisoning or accidents suffered by animals trying to escape.

There were also anecdotal reports of Kea attacking rabbits, dogs, and even horses.[30]

The Kea has been observed feeding on the following plants:[24]
Kea perched above Arthur's Pass
Fruits: Astelia nervosa Leaves and buds: Euphrasia zelandica
Coprosma pseudopunctata Gentiana bellidifolia
Coprosma pumila Gentiana spenceri
Coprosma serrulata Gnaphalium traversii
Cyathodes colensoi Hebe pauciramosa
Cyathodes fraseri Hebe vernicosa
Caultheria depressa Lagenophora petiolata
Muehlenbeckia axillaris Nothofagus solandri var. cliff
Pentachondra pumila
Podocarpus nivalis
Seeds: Aciphylla colensoi Flowers: Celimisia coriacea
Aciphylla ferox Celimisia discolor var. ampla
Aciphylla monroi Celimisia spectabilis var. ang
Astelia nervosa Cotula pyrethrifolia
Hebe ciliolata Gentiana bellidifolia
Pimelea oreophila Gentiana patula
Pittosporum anomalum Gentiana spenceri
Plantago raoulia Haastia pulvinaris
Luzula campestris
Roots: Anisotome pilifera Entire plant: Anisotome aromatica var. arom
Celmisia coriacea Ourisia sessilifolia
Gingidium montanum Ourisia caespitosa
Notothlaspi australe Ourisia macrophylla
Ranunculus insignis
Threats and conservation

Together with local councils and runholders, the New Zealand government paid a bounty for Kea bills because the bird preyed upon livestock, mainly sheep.[30][32] It was intended that hunters would kill Kea only on the farms and council areas that paid the bounty, but some hunted them in national parks and in Westland, where they were officially protected. More than 150,000 were killed in the hundred years before 1970, when the bounty was lifted.[33] In the 1970s, the Kea received partial protection after a census counted only 5000 birds. The government agreed to investigate any reports of problem birds and have them removed from the land.[19] It was not until 1986 that it was given full protection under the Wildlife Act 1953.

A study of Kea numbers in Nelson Lakes National Park showed a substantial decline in the population between 1999 and 2009, caused primarily by predation of Kea eggs and chicks.[34] Video cameras set up to monitor Kea nests in South Westland have confirmed that possums do kill Kea fledglings.[35]

The Kea is classed as Nationally Endangered in the New Zealand Threat Classification System[36] and Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List.

1. ^ BirdLife International (2008). Nestor notabilis. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 24 March 2009. Database entry includes a range map and justification for why this species is vulnerable.
2. ^ a b c Benham, W. B. (1906). Notes on the Flesh-eating Propensity of the Kea (Nestor notabilis). Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 39, 71–89.
3. ^ Lindsey, T., Morris, R. (2000) Field Guide To New Zealand Wildlife. Auckland: Harper Collins. (ISBN 1-86950-300-7)
4. ^ a b c Kea – Mountain Parrot, NHNZ. (1 hour documentary)
5. ^ Gould, J. (1856). On two new species of birds (Nestor notabilis and Spatula variegata) from the collection of Walter Mantell, Esq. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 94–95.
6. ^ Simpson DP (1979). Cassell's Latin Dictionary (5 ed.). London: Cassell Ltd.. pp. 883. ISBN 0-304-52257-0.
7. ^ Ngā manu – birds, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Updated 1 March 2009. Retrieved 21 January 2010.
8. ^ a b c Wright, T.F.; Schirtzinger E. E., Matsumoto T., Eberhard J. R., Graves G. R., Sanchez J. J., Capelli S., Muller H., Scharpegge J., Chambers G. K. & Fleischer R. C. (2008). "A Multilocus Molecular Phylogeny of the Parrots (Psittaciformes): Support for a Gondwanan Origin during the Cretaceous". Mol Biol Evol 25 (10): 2141–2156. doi:10.1093/molbev/msn160. PMID 18653733.
9. ^ a b c Grant-Mackie, E.J.; J.A. Grant-Mackie, W.M. Boon & G.K. Chambers (2003). "Evolution of New Zealand Parrots". NZ Science Teacher 103.
10. ^ Juniper, T., Parr, M. (1998) Parrots: A guide to parrots of the world. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press (ISBN 0-300-07453-0)
11. ^ a b de Kloet, R.S.; de Kloet, S.R. (2005). The evolution of the spindlin gene in birds: sequence analysis of an intron of the spindlin W and Z gene reveals four major divisions of the Psittaciformes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 36: 706–721.
12. ^ Schweizer, M.; Seehausen O, Güntert M and Hertwig ST (2009). "The evolutionary diversification of parrots supports a taxon pulse model with multiple trans-oceanic dispersal events and local radiations". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution online (3): 984–94. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2009.08.021. PMID 19699808.
13. ^ a b Forshaw, Joseph M. (2006). Parrots of the World; an Identification Guide. Illustrated by Frank Knight. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691092516.
14. ^ Bond, A. B.; Wilson, K. J. and Diamond, J. (1991). Sexual Dimorphism in the Kea Nestor notabilis, Emu 91(1), 12–19. doi:10.1071/MU9910012.
15. ^ One of world's rarest birds flourishing after DOC work, press release by Chris Carter, Minister of Conservation, 20 January 2006. Retrieved 22 January 2010.
16. ^ R.N. Holdaway and T.H. Worthy (1993). First North Island fossil record of Kea, and morphological and morphometric comparison of Kea and Kaka, Notornis, 40(2), 95–108
17. ^ Anderson, R. (1986) Keas for keeps. Forest and Bird, 17, 2–5
18. ^ a b c Bond, A. and Diamond, J. (1992). Population Estimates of Kea in Arthur’s Pass National Park, Notornis 39, 151–160.
19. ^ a b Diamond, J., Bond, A. (1999) Kea. Bird of paradox. The evolution and behavior of a New Zealand Parrot. Berkeley; Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. (ISBN 0-520-21339-4)
20. ^ a b Elliott, G., Kemp, J. (1999) Conservation ecology of Kea (Nestor notabilis). Report. WWF New Zealand.
21. ^ Cheeky parrot steals tourist's passport, ABC News, 30 May 2009. Retrieved 22 January 2010.
22. ^ a b Akers, Kate and Orr-Walker, Tamsin. Kea Factsheet, Kea Conservation Trust, April 2009. Retrieved 22 January 2010.
23. ^ Jackson, J. R. (1962). The life of the Kea. Canterbury Mountaineer 31, 120–123.
24. ^ a b c Clark, C.M.H. (1970) Observations on population, movements and food of the kea, Nestor notabilis, Notornis, 17, 105–114.
25. ^ Diamond, J & A. Bond (1989) Note on the lasting responsiveness of a Kea Nestor notabilis toward its mirror image, Avicultural Magazine 95(2):92–94.
26. ^ Jackson, J. R. (1960). Keas at Arthur's Pass. Notornis 9, 39–58.
27. ^ Falla RA, Sibson RB & Turbot EG (1966) A Field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Collins, London (ISBN 0-00-212022-4)
28. ^ Christina Troup. Birds of open country – Kea digging out a shearwater chick, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Updated 20 November 2009. Accessed 22 January 2010.
29. ^ Gajdon, G.K., Fijn, N., Huber, L. (2006) Limited spread of innovation in a wild parrot, the kea (Nestor notabilis). Animal Cognition, 9, 173–181. doi:10.1007/s10071-006-0018-7
30. ^ a b c Marriner, G. R. (1906) Notes on the Natural History of the Kea, with Special Reference to its Reputed Sheep-killing Propensities. Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 39, 271–305.
31. ^ Jackson, J.R. (1962). Do Kea attack sheep? Notornis 10, 33–38.
32. ^ Marriner, G. R. (1907) Additional Notes on the Kea. Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 40, 534–537 and Plates XXXII-XXXIV.
33. ^ Temple, P. (1996) The Book of the Kea. Auckland: Hodder Moa Beckett. (ISBN 0-340-600039)
34. ^ Simon Bloomberg. Possums take toll on kea at Nelson Lakes, Nelson Mail, 21 February 2009.
35. ^ "Nest cameras catch attacks on keas". Fairfax New Zealand (NZPA). 18 November 2010. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/4360809/Nest-cameras-catch-attacks-on-keas. Retrieved 18 November 2010.
36. ^ Hitchmough, Rod; Bull, Leigh; Cromarty, Pam (2007). New Zealand Threat Classification System lists 2005. Wellington: Department of Conservation. ISBN 0-478-14128-9. http://www.doc.govt.nz/upload/documents/science-and-technical/sap236.pdf.

Birds Images

Source: Wikipedia, Wikispecies: All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License