Kākā, from Walter Lawry Buller's, Birds of New Zealand, 1888.


Itis, I think, the very early obervers of our birds who give some of the best information about them, simply because they had more experience of them as there were many more of the species around in their day. Hence Thomas Potts on the Kākā:

“Our representatives of the gorgeously painted Psittacidae possess little of the brilliancy of plumage or gracefulness of form which distinguishes so many of the family in other lands; our Kākā, in his suit of sober brown slightly flushed with red, might be passed over in a collection almost without notice by many to whom his quaint habits are unknown, and even to those who are most familiar with the bird, it conveys little if any impression in association with the parrot tribe; it is never called by that name except, perhaps, there is a desire on the part of some old settler to impress a newcomer with a proper sense of having arrived in a foreign country, when our noisy Kākā are spoken of or pointed out as “our parrots”.

“Living in the trees, when disturbed it hops amongst the branches with much dexterity, beak and wings assisting its awkward–looking but rapid progress as it threads its way amongst leaves and sprays with unruffled plumage; the peculiar formation of its grasping feet enable it to execute wonderful feats of agile climbing. A sharp short note ot two marks its uneasiness when a vigilant eye watches what takes place below; when really alarmed, after a few hurried movements, it flies some short distance, at first start usually gliding downwards rather than flying straight, threading the leafy maze of close–growing trees with perfect ease and grace, at this time it warns its fellows of impending danger by uttering loud oft–repeated cries of “kākā, kākā.” In all probability it derived its native name from its alarm note.

“It can readily be imagined that in those times when only the rudest and least effective weapons were in use, long prior to the period at which the Maori became acquainted with the death–dealing gun, how frequently frightened or wounded birds escaped the uncertain missiles, uttering loud cries of terror; vexation or hunger would soon impress this call on the mind of the disappointed hunter.

“We have ever thought it a miserable sight to watch the Kākā, when severely wounded, uttering its low smothered cried of distress and pain; how the wretched bird endeavours to save its fall from leafy shelter by clinging to bough and spray with desperate tenacity, often seizing its wounded limb with its powerful beak, as if to tear away the burning agony from which it suffers. Truly gregarious, it is social even in distress; numbers gather round their wounded companion to fall easy victims to the gunner.

“Often in the bright sunshine, scores may be observed, with loud screams and chatter, flying and circling about, and, high above the outskirts of the bush, apparently bent on enjoying some short excursion; now and then an individual more hilarious than his fellows, after a somewhat slow and laboured ascent, will suddenly dart downwards, perpendicularly, with almost closed wings; this feat is doubtless performed to an appreciative and admiring circle, if one may judge from the clamour of the company.

“When matched, the pair may be observed constantly together; if one moves from a tree its attentive partner quickly follows. The nesting place has to be prepared; for this purpose a tree is usually selected, the heart of which is completely decayed; it must have a convenient hole leading from outside to the bottom of the hollow; the interior requires some preparation perhaps, or the entrance has to be smoothed or enlarged; the pair may be frequently observed busy for the comfort and safety of their prospective offspring, sometimes a certain degree of fastidiousness is disclosed in making these preparations. After a home is made ready, if often happens that in place of being occupied it is deserted for some more eligible locality. It lays its four white eggs on the decayed wood, without further supply of softer material by way of nest.

“As an instance of devoted attachment to its young, it may be mentioned that we have found the old bird dead at the entrance of its nesting hole after a bush fire, in which it has perished rather than desert its helpless offspring, yet, from the nature of the locality, escape would have been easy.

“The summer time is occupied by the cares of providing for and protecting the young; after they are old enough to shift for themslves, as autumn advances, the Kākā usually becomes very fat; as it is considered savoury food, great numbers are annually destroyed.

“It is in winter time that it appears to the greatest disadvantage, especially during a severe winter in our Southern climate, when the bush is metamorphosed with fantastic snow wreaths, it seems out of character with the scene; food may be scarce, for with ruffled feathers it sits moping and nearly silent, a picture of dull melancholy. Towards the close of winter we have known it to devour with avidity the hard seed of the kowhai; at this period gardens and shrubberies are visited, and blossoms of almond trees and flowering shrubs eagerly ransacked; as winter passes away with its coarse fare, returning spring restores the Kākā’s sprightliness and he begins to fare daintily. In September we have observed it poised on the slender bough of some tall Panax, luxuriating on the viscid nectar of its blossoms; happy enough it looks when thus seen through some opening in the bush, its deep red breast feathers lit up by the slanting rays of the declining sun; sated at last, it cleanses its huge beak against a neighouring bough, then, with grateful chatter, glides off to join its fellows.

“Insects form no inconsiderable portion of its food, how diligently they are sought for may be judged from the heaps of bark chips that lie beneath decaying trees; often it may be noticed on the ground tearing away the mossy clothing of huge gnarled roots that spread around, even the soft rotten boughs are gnawed to obtain the larvae of some of the larger bush insects.

“Not only does it regale on flowers and insect food; in the Fagus forests, in the bark of the black birch trees may be found a dull red fleshy looking grub, tightly embedded in the hard bark, quite beneath the black velvety moss that wraps the Fagus like a pall; the wound made by this unsightly insect causes in springtime a sweet honey–like exudation, most frequently taking the form of a fine white filament, terminating in a small bright globule, glistening like a dewdrop; glancing upwards, the tall straight grown stem appears spangled with multitudes of these bright threaded beads. This is a favourite feeding ground of several arboreals. Of these hungry climbers, the robust framed Kākā occupies the foremost rank for size, its hold on the bole of the tree is secure, its movements deliberate, whilst its thick tongue is actively employed in gathering the honey-sweet meal.

“The Kākā is easily snared, and very soon becomes tame if allowed liberty about the premises, its ready confidence quickly transforms a pet into a plaque. Let those who doubt its omnivorous propensities allow it access to a dairy, and watch the deft manner in which it manages to clear the cream from the pans.”

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Psittaciformes
Family: Psittacidae
Genera: Nestor
Species: meridionalis
Sub Species: septentrionalis, meridionalis
Other common names:  —

Bush parrot, brown parrot, mountain parrot, nestor hypopolius.

Description:  — 

Endemic bird

45 cm., male, 525 g., female, 475 g., olive brown, crimson under wings and rump.

Where to find:  — 

Central North Island forest, Pureora, Whirinaki, Coromandel, offshore islands, Hen and Chickens, Great Barrier, Little Barrier, Mayor and Kapiti Islands. South Island forests and Stewart Island, but are nowhere common.

More Information:  — 

LINK to Kākā page   —  Maori Myths section

 Song of:  —  Kākā

 Viking Sevenseas

Illustration description: — 

Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1888.

G.D. Rowley, Ornithological Miscellaný, 1875 – 78.

Reference(s): — 

Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Oliver, W.R.B. New Zealand Birds, 1955.


G.D. Rowley, Ornithological Miscellaný, 1875 – 78.  — Kākā

Page date & version: — 

Sunday, 27 August, 2023; ver2023v1