Denver Zoo Map
March 29, 2017


Chick’s hatching marks rare occasion for U.S. zoos

Denver Zoo is celebrating its first-ever successful hatching of a kea (KEE-yah), a large, vulnerable species of parrot. The female chick, named Scarlet, hatched on February 8, and has been hand-reared by zookeepers since then at the Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center. Scarlet’s arrival is special as she increases the North American zoo population to only 38 keas, 14 of which are female. Zookeepers have taken extra steps to assure her continued well-being. She is still growing behind the scenes, but will make her public debut soon at the Zoo’s Bird World habitat.

Scarlet's hatching is a somewhat rare occasion. Only 11 institutions in North America house the species and they can be very difficult to breed. Denver Zoo’s zookeepers were diligent, though, and after thorough research, designed a large nest box, with a tunnel entrance, that finally encouraged Scarlet’s mother, Anna, to breed with her mate, Sorento, resulting in four eggs. Zookeepers had planned to give the pair a chance to incubate the eggs and rear the chicks themselves, but unfortunately, the parents broke two of the eggs, forcing zookeepers to pull the remaining two and incubate them artificially. Of those, only one chick hatched. Zookeepers have then hand-raised the chick since then, but will eventually place Scarlet with her parents once she is old enough.

This is the first chick for both Anna and Sorento. Anna hatched at the Woodland Park Zoo, in Seattle, Washington, in March 2006, and arrived from there in August 2008. Sorento hatched at the San Diego Zoo in December 2004 and came to Denver Zoo from the Philadelphia Zoo in October 2010. The two were paired under recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. The kea SSP coordinator, Jessica Meehan, who supervises the management of the birds around North America, is also a Denver Zoo zookeeper.

Keas are one of the few alpine species of parrot in the world and are found mostly in the mountains of the South Island of New Zealand. Adults can grow to about 19 inches long, and can weigh about 2 pounds. Their feathers are mostly olive-green, save for the bright, reddish-orange coloring under their wings. Keas were named by the Māori people for the sound of one of the birds’ vocalizations, which sounds like “kee-yah.”

While exact population numbers are difficult to verify, experts estimate the wild kea population at between 3,000 and 5,000 individuals, but could be significantly lower. The species is thought to be in decline and is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They face a number of threats, including human-animal conflict and predation by introduced species, like stoats and possums.