Kākāpō

The kākāpō (night parrot) is one of New Zealand’s unique ‘treasures’ with only 126 known surviving birds. It is listed internationally as a critically endangered species.

Sirocco the kākāpō.
Sirocco the kākāpō

News

Sirocco the kākāpō is the Spokesbird for Conservation. Get the latest kākāpō news from his updates on Facebook and Twitter.

View stories about kākāpō - watch videos, read blog posts by DOC staff, and check out the latest news articles about kākāpō and DOC's work with this eccentric parrot.

Facts

Large, flightless and nocturnal, the kākāpō is an eccentric parrot which can live for decades. It is not closely related to other parrots and, in fact, has a combination of biological features not shared by any other species.

It is the only representative of a unique sub-family, Strigops habroptila, and the softness of its plumage is represented in the second part of that scientific name. With mottled moss-green feathers, camouflage is its main form of defence.

Maud the kākāpō. Photo: Sabine Bernert.
Maud the kākāpō

  • Kākāpō are the heaviest parrot in the world. Males can weigh over 2 kg. Unique among land birds, it can store large amounts of energy as body fat.
  • Kākāpō is the only parrot to have a 'lek' mating system: males compete for 'calling posts' specially dug-out bowls in the earth and call ("boom") each night in summer months for a female. The male’s low-frequency mating boom travels over several kilometres. It is the only parrot to have an inflatable thoracic air sac.
  • Kākāpō breed every 2 - 4 years.
  • A bird can walk several kilometres in one night.
  • Although it cannot fly, it is good at climbing trees.
  • The birds are herbivores and eat variety of foods such as roots, leaves and fruit
  • Kākāpō once lived from near sea level to high in the mountains.
  • Possibly as defence against its ancient predator - the giant eagle - the kākāpō became nocturnal and learned to remain still ('freeze') at times of danger. 

Listen to kākāpō sound recordings.

Threats

Early Polynesian settlers hunted the bird for its plumage and meat. At the beginning of the 19th century, kākāpō were still widespread throughout New Zealand. From the 1840s, European settlers not only hunted the bird, they cleared and set fire to bush for farming, destroying its habitat.

Most devastating of all to its survival was the introduction of predators such as rats, cats and stoats. In ancient history, its only endemic predator was a giant eagle (now extinct) and it developed the habit of nesting, rearing and feeding its young on the ground. This nesting behaviour made its eggs and chicks easy prey to introduced mammalian predators, especially cats.

By the 1970s, only a few isolated birds were known to exist in Fiordland, South Island. A survey of Stewart Island in 1977 found about 200 more birds but they were rapidly declining through predation by feral cats.

Following translocations of all the remaining kākāpō, they are now managed by the Department of Conservation on three offshore islands: Whenua Hou (Codfish Island) near Stewart Island, Anchor Island in Fiordland, and Little Barrier Island (Hauturu-o-Toi) near Auckland.

Stella the kākāpō. Photo: Sabine Bernert.
Stella the kākāpō

Kākāpō Recovery partnership

Kākāpō Recovery is a partnership between DOC, New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS) and Forest & Bird. It began in 1990 and is DOC's longest running partnership.

NZAS has been important to the success of Kākāpō Recovery and saving New Zealand’s iconic kākāpō from extinction.

When NZAS got involved in 1990 there only 49 kākāpō remaining and there are now 126. NZAS first invested in this unique part of New Zealand’s identity because the kākāpō was NZAS’ most vulnerable neighbour and they wanted to lend a helping hand. Since then NZAS has contributed $4.35 million to DOC’s Kākāpō Recovery programme plus over 1,000 days in maintenance and volunteer support.

Through this long term commitment Kākāpō Recovery has been able to become a world class conservation programme, pioneering conservation techniques and developed new conservation techniques for use in other programmes.kākāpō Recovery logo.

Kākāpō Recovery website

Volunteering

During the breeding season, the Kākāpō Recovery Team requires assistance from volunteers for nest minding, supplementary chick feeding and cooking meals for those involved in the project.

If you are interested in volunteering or want to find out more about these truly amazing parrots and the Kākāpō Recovery programme, visit the Kākāpō Recovery website

View kākāpō images (flickr slideshow)

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Find out more

Learn more

New Zealand Birds Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand birds

Kākāpō Recovery

Contacts

DOC's 24 hour emergency hotline:

0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)

Call to report sick or injured wildlife, and whale or dolphin strandings.