North Island kākā
Image: Sabine Bernert ©

Introduction

The kākā is a large parrot belonging to the nestorinae family, a group that includes the kea and the extinct Norfolk Island kākā.

Highlights

New Zealand status: Endemic
Conservation status:
North Island kākā are At Risk (Recovering); South Island kākā are Nationally Vulnerable, Chatham Islands kaka are extinct.  
Found in:
Large forested areas in the North and South Islands

Sound recordings:

Kākā: North Island kākā song (MP3, 1,382K)
01:28 – North Island kākā song.

Kākā: South Island kākā song (MP3, 2,540K)
02:41 – South Island kākā song.

Species information: Kaka and Chatham Island kaka on NZ Birds Online.

Did you know?

Kākā are mainly diurnal but active at night during fine weather or a full moon.

Kākā conservation

Flocks of boisterous kākā gather early morning and late evening to socialise - their amusing antics and raucous voice led Māori to refer to them as chattering and gossiping.

When Europeans first arrived in New Zealand, they found kākā in abundance through out the forests of both islands, but by 1930 the birds were localised to a few areas.

Today, they are still reasonably common in the Whirinaki, and Pureora forest parks, but even within these strongholds, numbers are thought to be declining. Other large forested areas are almost empty of kākā.

The North Island kākā, nevertheless, can be found in good numbers on some offshore islands, especially little and Great Barrier islands and Kapiti Island.

The South Island sub-species is still widespread, becoming progressively more common from Nelson (where it is relatively rare) down the West Coast to Fiordland. South Island kākā are also found around Halfmoon Bay (Stewart Island), Ulva Island, and on Codfish Island.

The extinct Chatham islands kākā was only discovered in 2014, identified by DNA analysis of fossilised bones.

Threats

Remains of an incubating North Island kākā female, preyed on while on the nest. Photo: Terry Greene.
Remains of an incubating North Island kākā female, preyed on while on the nest

Kākā require large tracts of forest to survive. Habitat loss from forest clearance for agriculture and logging have had a devastating effect.

Browsing by introduced pests such as possums, deer and pigs has reduced the abundance of food. Possums also eat the same kind of food as kākā, most significantly, high energy food types such as endemic mistletoe and rātā.

Introduced wasps compete with kākā for the shimmering honeydew (excreted by scale insects) which forms on the barks of beech trees. Both the mistletoe and honeydew supply sugary food which is an important part of the bird’s diet, and may be essential for it to breed in some beech forests.

Having evolved in the absence of mammalian predators, kākā have many characteristics that make them easy prey. Kākā nest deep in hollow trees, where there is no escape if they are cornered by predators such as stoats, rats and possums (which eat chicks and eggs). Young birds often leave the nest before they can fly, making them vulnerable to predators. Nesting females are the most vulnerable to stoat attacks, resulting in a disproportionate male/female sex ratio.

National recovery project

DOC established a national project to coordinate kākā recovery. The two main objectives are:

  • To maintain a viable population of South Island kākā in the beech honeydew forests of the northern South Island. (The Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project aims to establish a mainland island reserve on the doorstep of Nelson Lakes National Park. This project will assist kākā by controlling predators within the reserve.)
  • To study the effects of pest control on North Island kākā in the Waipapa ecological area with the aim of maintaining a viable population within a central North Island podocarp forest.

Call of the wild

In 1996, nine juvenile kākā were released into the Pukaha Mount Bruce forest, in eastern Wairarapa, from where the species had been absent for nearly 50 years. They were a combination of hand-reared birds from the Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre and wild ones from Kapiti Island, near Wellington.

This was the first time captive-bred kākā had been released into the wild and the first relocation of wild kākā. The kākā project is part of pioneering species management work at the centre.

The South Island kākā Captive Management Plan's goal is to support South Island ecosystem restoration projects, by providing captive-bred South Island kākā for release into the wild to establish viable self-sustaining populations. Read the South Island Kākā Captive Management Plan 2010–2020 (PDF, 145K).

In 2015 Project Janszoon and DOC began releasing kākā into Abel Tasman National Park. With the help of volunteers, the partnership plans to release and monitor up to 100 kākā in the future.

Battle for our Birds

Kākā is at risk from a predator plague caused by high levels of seed production ('beech mast'). Battle for our Birds protects kākā and other native species from predators.

You can help

Emergency hotline

Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife. 

Help protect our native birds

When visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
  • Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
  • Check your gear for mice and rats when visiting pest-free islands.
  • Leave nesting birds alone.
  • Use available access ways to get to the beach. 
  • Avoid leaving old fishing lines on beaches or in the sea.
  • Follow the water care code and local navigation bylaws.
  • Don't drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.
Other ways to help
  • Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
  • Volunteer with DOC or other groups to control predators and restore bird habitats.
  • Set traps for stoats or rats on your property. Get more information from your local DOC office.
  • Put a bell on your cat's collar, feed it well, and keep it indoors at dusk/dawn and at night.
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