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 throughout 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, the Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project area, along the Milford Track, and in the Eglinton Valley in Fiordland National Park. 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 Tiritiri Matangi, Aoetea/Great Barrier Island 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 Whenua Hou/Codfish Island.

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

Threats

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 and community partners have established several projects to promote kākā recovery. Many of these are community-based initiatives which use predator proof fencing and trapping to protect kākā from predators. Successful examples and places to see kākā include:

  • Tāwharanui Regional Park, Auckland
  • Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, Wairarapa
  • Zealandia, Wellington
  • Project Janszoon, Abel Tasman National Park
  • Orokonui Ecosanctuary, Dunedin

Call of the wild

In 1996, nine juvenile kākā were released into the Pūkaha 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 Pūkaha 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).

To support this programme, practioners and veterinary experts have come together and produced a kākā Husbandry Manual. This has been approved by DOC and will be used to establish standards and seek improvements for the care of captive kākā. Read the Kākā Husbandry Manual 2021.

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. At the time a few wild male kākā were believed to still be present in the area, but the females were typically killed by predators while on the nest. 

These kākā are intensively monitored and in 2019 at least three of the released birds mated with wild males, producing kākā chicks which successfully fledged in the Abel Tasman.

The population had another boost in spring 2019 when 24 kākā were released at Bark Bay/Wairima on the Abel Tasman Coast. Some of these birds were taken as eggs or chicks from wild nests in Nelson Lakes or Kahurangi National Park and hand raised in captivity.

Kākā is at risk from a predator plague caused by high levels of seed production ('beech mast'). Tiakina Ngā Manu 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.

On your property

  • Trap on your property.
  • Keep your cat in at night.

In your community

  • Find and volunteer with your local community group 
  • Trap in your community
  • Get kids or schools involved

See Predator Free 2050 Trust - get involved for information.

Visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes

  • 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.
  • Do not drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.

With your dog

  • Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
  • If you come across wildlife put your dog on a lead and lead it away. 
  • Warn other dog owners at the location.
  • Notify DOC if you see wildlife being harassed by people or dogs.
  • Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
  • Learn about the Lead the Way programme which encourages dog owners to become wildlife wise and know how to act to protect coastal wildlife.

Specific ways to keep wildlife safe while with your dog on beaches.

Back to top