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.
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
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 for pests 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 to control predators and restore bird habitats.
- Set predator traps on your property.
- Put a bell on your cat's collar and feed it well.