Kea and chicks
Image: DOC


More kea are being seen in the Nelson Lakes area to the delight of visitors and DOC staff, and it’s an encouraging sign their numbers there are growing.

Date:  27 September 2023

DOC Nelson Lakes Senior Biodiversity Ranger Melissa Griffin says kea had practically disappeared from Nelson Lakes but more kea sightings last summer suggest efforts to re-build the population are working. 

“Trampers reported seeing groups of kea with juvenile and sub-adult birds,” says Melissa Griffin.

“It’s been particularly exciting young kea known to have been bred in the Nelson Lakes area were among those seen. This shows the birds are doing well on their own.”

Six kea chicks successfully fledged from two monitored nests in the 2022 breeding season – three from each kea nest. The nesting adult females also each had three chicks fledge from their nests in the 2021 breeding season. 

Nesting in the current breeding season is starting with so far one of the females sitting on eggs in her monitored nest cavity.

The exact number of kea in the Nelson Lakes area isn’t known but Melissa Griffin estimates there now could be around 25, based on reported sightings.

DOC and Kea Conservation Trust efforts to protect and grow the kea population in Nelson Lakes are being boosted thanks to support from the World Parrot Trust and New Zealand Parrot Trust, charities devoted to the conservation of wild parrots.

The funding facilitates critical work by contractors during the breeding season to help maintain stoat traps around monitored kea nests.

“The World Parrot Trust and New Zealand Parrot Trust support to protect kea nests enables DOC rangers to put more time into learning more about the kea in the area,” says Melissa Griffin.

“We’re also grateful for the support enabling us to purchase five radio-transmitters. These will be put on fledging kea chicks this breeding season to track them and find out where they go after they leave the nest.”

“We are proud to support DOC in its mission to protect kea at Nelson Lakes National Park. Kea play an important role as seed dispersers in subalpine and alpine environments. Therefore, an increase in kea numbers in the area can have an important effect on plant communities,” said Luis Ortiz-Catedral, Oceania Regional Director of the World Parrot Trust.

DOC staff are encouraging visitors to Nelson Lakes to look out for kea and report sightings to assist in learning more about the local population.

A novel approach was taken last summer with visitors invited to take part in a “Where’s Wally” type quest to find a juvenile kea named Wallie. Wallie had fledged from one of the monitored nests in December and Melissa Griffin says the bird was given the name after proving to be hard to spot in the nest.

“For a long time, there were only two kea chicks seen in footage from cameras focussed on the entrance to the nest cavity, then randomly a third chick started to appear. It was something of a mystery bird.”

Wallie is distinguishable by leg bands used to identify individual birds with Wallie’s being the letters CW in yellow on a blue band. There have been several sightings of Wallie so far this year.

People are asked to report sightings of banded kea and other kea to a kea database to help build a picture of kea numbers in areas and kea movements. 

Live capture traps, purchased through Kea Conservation Trust fundraising, helped protect a monitored kea nest in the Rainbow Conservation Area from predation by feral cats during the 2022 breeding season. Nine feral cats were caught in the traps.

The other monitored nest was in the Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project area and benefitted from its ongoing stoat and possum trapping.


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