At the zoo: In an aviary behind the Bird World building
In the wild: can be found in a variety of habitats throughout the New Zealand, but are most common in montane forests and alpine zones
At the zoo: seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, specially formulated parrot food
In the wild: a wide variety of plants and animals including insects, roots, seeds, other birds and fruit
Kea are monogamous and form long term bonds with their mate. Young birds often come together in a folk and breeding pairs may join these groups when they pass through the pairs’ home range.
Meet our feathered friend Anna, the kea (Nestor notabilis). Kea are a species of parrot. Anna and her mate Sorento live in back of Bird World in a large outdoor exhibit. You can recognize Anna because she is the bird with the shorter beak and metal bands on both of her legs. Although our kea may look a little plain at first with their green coloration, if you get to know them a little you will find they are one of our most remarkable birds! They also have a wonderful red color that you can see when they fly.
The kea is the world’s only alpine parrot. Kea can be seen regularly above tree line in the high mountains of the South Island of New Zealand, the only place in the world they occur in the wild. There they can be seen riding the wind with the flash of red under their wings shining bright, calling “KEEE-AAA”. It is thought that their unique ability to live in cold, harsh conditions goes hand-in-hand with their omnivorous habits – kea will eat almost anything they can find! They like fruits, vegetables and nuts like other parrots, but they will also eat insects, meat, eggs, and other items high in fat and protein. In the wild they are known to visit landfills to scavenge for food and play with the trash. Kea are extremely curious and intelligent birds; they are considered to be perhaps the most intelligent bird species in the world. They are known to easily solve puzzles and sometimes even work together to solve a problem.
Their insatiable curiosity has also caused them some problems in the wild. When sheep ranchers moved into kea habitat in the 1800’s, it is thought that some kea learned that during the harsh winter months they could pick at the flesh of the sheep who were stuck in the snow and grab a meal of high-fat tissue. This habit caused the kea to be placed on a most-wanted list and they were hunted under a bounty until 1970. At that time it became clear that this native species was being hunted toward extinction so over the next decades the kea became a protected species. Although hunting has ceased for the most part, kea are still in trouble; current threats include human-kea conflict, predation by introduced species and habitat loss, among other issues. Kea are so curious that they often interact with humans in ways that get them into trouble – harassing sheep, breaking into and destroying cars, stealing food from backpacks and tents, and other amusing but disruptive behavior. A new threat to some young kea has arisen when some birds began “car-surfing” on vehicles in a certain mountainous region. The birds ride the cars down the road and some have fallen to their deaths when cars go too fast. The organization Kea Conservation Trust (www.keaconservation.co.nz) works to protect kea from all of these dangers by educating people and mitigating problems that arise, as well as researching the wild population and wild nest sites.
Here at Denver Zoo we work hard to keep keas enriched and busy. We have a volunteer program dedicated to creating novel enrichment opportunities for our kea and other parrot species. Keepers provide a variety of food and enrichment several times a day. You may notice if you visit during the day that our kea are resting with their heads tucked – this is a typical kea behavior as they are most active early in the morning and in the evenings. They tend to be most active and entertaining to observe in the late afternoons, when they are inevitably tearing apart their enrichment items to find the food and objects hidden inside. You may notice that their exhibit is almost always a mess! This is a sign that the birds have been using their enrichment well and keeping their minds and bodies active.
Please visit them behind Bird World. Due to their native environment they should be able to enjoy all of the cold weather we have in store this winter with ease.