Before humans settled here, kākāpō were widespread on mainland New Zealand. Sub-fossil remains and Māori middens (kitchen waste-piles) suggest they lived in a wide range of habitats and were once one of the most common bird species in New Zealand.
Where kākāpō live now
These days, the best kākāpō habitat is a protected offshore island. Island sanctuaries offer natural vegetation, shelter and safety from introduced mammals such as stoats, cats, rats and mice.
It’s highly unlikely there are undiscovered kākāpō on the mainland. If any survive, they would be in the remotest corners of wilderness, such as Fiordland National Park. There may be the odd bird left on Stewart Island/Rakiura.
Kākāpō live on three protected islands:
Codfish Island/Whenua Hou – 1,396 ha
Whenua Hou is a nature reserve 3 km west of Stewart Island/Rakiura. The first kākāpō were transferred there in 1987, and rats were eradicated in 1998.
Whenua Hou is the centre for Kākāpō Recovery in New Zealand. It provides kākāpō with habitat very similar to their original Rakiura home. The kākāpō seem to like it, adding 24 chicks to the population in 2002, 33 in 2009 and 19 in 2016.
Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island – 3,083 ha
Hauturu is a nature reserve 80 km north-east of Auckland City. The first kākāpō were transferred there in 1982 after a cat eradication in 1980. Rats were eradicated in 2004. The island is home to a range of endangered species, including a small number of kākāpō.
Hauturu lacks the rimu trees that trigger kākāpō breeding. We don’t know what triggers kākāpō to breed on the island, but it might be kauri or hard beech trees. We currently use the island to research how well kākāpō can rear chicks without supplementary food.
Anchor Island – 1,140 ha
Anchor Island is in Dusky Sound, southwest Fiordland. The first kākāpō were transferred there in 2005, after a stoat eradication in 2001.
Like Whenua Hou, Anchor Island has rimu forest. But it also has beech forest. Both forest types flower every three to five years, often in different years. We hope this abundancy of food will help kākāpō breed more often.
In 2016, 20 out of 21 adult females bred on Anchor Island, and two of the females nested twice, producing 15 chicks.
Currently, there's no predator-free island capable of holding more than 100 kākāpō. As the population grows, we'll need to clear a suitably large island of introduced predators.
Our distant dream is to reintroduce kākāpō to mainland New Zealand. Get involved with Predator Free 2050 to make that happen.