The word kakapo translates to mean night parrot and that essentially describes this unusual bird. Also called the owl parrot, this is a species of large, nocturnal, flightless and ground-dwelling parrot.
The kakapo is the world’s only flightless parrot and one of the longest-living birds.
It’s native to New Zealand, living in island forests. It’s critically endangered and currently there is a huge effort by New Zealanders to save it from extinction.
Kakapo Facts Overview
|Lifespan:||60 – 125 years|
|Size:||58 – 65 cm (23 – 25 inches)|
|Weight:||1 – 4 kg (2 – 9 lbs)|
|Color:||Yellow-green, black, brown, grey|
|Diet:||Plants, seeds, fruits, pollen|
|Predators:||Cats, rats, ferrets, stoats, possums, humans|
|Top Speed:||5mph (8 kph)|
|No. of Species:
It has a large grey beak, short legs, large feet, short wings and a short tail. This bird also has a finely blotched yellow-green plumage with an obvious facial disc. It is also a chubby looking bird that has a rather funny appearance compared to other parrots and other birds in general.
As if these traits didn’t make it already unique among its kind, the kakapo also happens to be the world’s only parrot that cannot fly. It is also quite possibly one of the world’s longest-living birds with a lifespan up to 95 years, with the oldest recorded at reaching 125 years.
The kakapo once existed throughout New Zealand in many different habitats including scrub lands, tussock lands and coastal areas. It also could be found in forests but is now just confined to islands free of predation and have adapted to the regional climate.
The kakapo has been ranked by the Department of Conservation as ‘Nationally Critical’ and as of February 2019, the entire adult population was 147 living parrots.
The kakapo was almost completely wiped out during European colonization where cats, rats and ferrets were introduced to New Zealand. Conservation efforts began in the 1890s and it wasn’t until the implementation of the Kakapo Recovery Programme in 1995 that conservation efforts have been successful.
At one point, the kakapo population had dropped to 49 birds. Those were extremely inbred and as a result had low genetic diversity. This translates to mean that these birds would have low disease resistance and fertility issues. In fact, 40-percent of kakapo eggs are infertile. In 2015 the Kakapo 125 project began aimed to sequence the genome of all living kakapo birds.
Interesting Kakapo Facts
1. The kakapo is not only flightless, it’s a rather big parrot.
The kakapo is the fattest and heaviest parrot on Earth. Some can weigh as much as 4 kilograms.
2. The courtship ritual used by the kakapo parrot species has a term of its own.
It is known as lekking and males during breeding season will travel 4 miles to a special area for this activity to take place in order to find a mate.
3. In the special area, the males will create a place where they will sit waiting for a mate to arrive.
The kakapo male will dig a 10 centimeter deep bowl to sit in after exploring the rock faces, tree trunks and other ground features for the perfect location.
4. The males use an unusual communication style while in the bowls.
Sounds known as ‘booms’ are emitted by the male kakapo when seeking a mate. They are so low in frequency that they can travel up to 3 miles. The surrounding features of the area, including rock faces, help to reflect the sounds and the bowls the birds sit in act as amplifiers.
5. The mating calls go on for a long time before a female will respond.
The male kakapo will use not just the low frequency ‘booms’ but also high-pitched ‘chings’ and will continue to make these mating calls for up to 4 months. The calls can also go on for up to eight hours in a single night.
6. The breeding cycle for the kakapo is interesting.
A total of between one and two eggs will be laid. They will hatch after 30 days but are guarded before that by the female who will only leave them at night to seek food. The chicks are nurtured by their mothers for 3 months and will stay with their mothers for a few additional months.
7. The visual appearance of the kakapo is responsible for one of their common names.
The face of the kakapo is said to resemble that of an owl and as a result, it is also called the owl parrot.
8. For a flightless bird, the kakapo has interesting legs.
The legs of this parrot are large, scaly and muscular. It is because of the way in which their legs have developed that kakapos are excellent climbers and hikers.
9. Speaking of funny looking legs on a parrot…
The walk of the average kakapo is amusing and equally interesting. When walking, the gait is similar to that of jogging.
10. Although the kakapo cannot use their wings for flight, they come in handy for another reason.
When jumping off from trees, the kakapo will use their wings as a sort of parachute.
11. The kakapo has an unusual way to protect itself when startled.
When something frightens this bird, it can’t fly away so instead, it will freeze and stay in one position. At that time it will try to blend into the surroundings. It is an effective defense mechanism that has worked against many predators.
12. As a nocturnal bird, it has a little bit of genetic assistance.
Even though it is the heaviest parrot around, it has an acute sense of smell which keeps it active when seeking food at night.
13. Not only can a kakapo smell well, it also smells good.
The words that best describe the smell of the kakapo is that of a musty-sweet odor. That great smelling bird also gets some additional use out of that scent – it is used as a sort of GPS to find each other. The downside to being a musty-sweet smelling bird is that you also attract predators that find that smell not just interesting, but an indicator of something that will also taste good.
14. Kakapo are used in many different ways.
The meat of the kakapo has been a food source for the Maori for centuries. Their feathers are used to make pieces of clothing and on occasion, kakapo were kept as pets. Now that they are protected, none of those activities continue – legally.
Kakapo Fact-File Summary