Thursday, May 20, 2010


Meet the world's heaviest, rarest, longest-lived parrot - the Kakapo. Found on only a few small islands off the coast of New Zealand, (sounds familiar?!?) they also have the distinction of being nocturnal and flightless. Oh, and there are only 123 of them alive. One hundred and twenty three. Because of their rarity and unique traits, an extensive conservation program has been underway. One of the major efforts of the program was to actually relocate the birds to those aforementioned small islands, because they were being preyed upon by feral cats and mustelids on the South Island (they went extinct on North Island by the 1920s)

Image from Kakapo Recovery Programme
Kakapo are pretty unique birds, though they are herbivores like most other parrots. Besides the natural, heavy and flightless traits, they are also the only flightless bird to take part in a lek mating system. The system entails a group of males coming together on high ridges and hilltops, with each males having its own bowl-shaped court. From that area, they will emit low sonic booms using an air sac in their chests that can carry up to 5km away. They will continue to produce these sounds for up to eight strait hours, sometimes emitting over 1000 in one night, and females will find them and mate with them. Male Kakapo do not in any way assist with chick rearing. After mating, they stay in their little bowls, booming and waiting for the next female to come along.

Because they cannot fly, Kakapo must find other ways to get around. They are excellent climbers, and can use their wings to slow them down when jumping. Another interesting tidbit is the fact that Kakapo may be the longest lived birds in existence. It is estimated they can live up to 90 years, though no one is sure. Since the recovery programs were begun in the 1980s, not a single bird discovered has died from old age, and many were already adults when they were found. They have very slow lifestyles; females don't start breeding till the age of six and chicks are only produced every few years.

The Kakapo Recovery Programme has been working to breed and sustain the existing population. They have spent years tracking down the remaining Kakapo and monitoring their activities. Because of the low numbers, inbreeding has been an issue and has caused high percentages of infertile eggs. The KRP has been doing genetic testing to maximize genetic diversity, and they have also been working with artificial insemination to increase the fertility of females (who tend to lay fertilized eggs more successfully if they mate more than once).

This is the best YouTube Video ever.

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