Saturday, November 27, 2010

Kea

In 1990, Erika and I presented our antbird parasite research at the International Ornithological Congress in Christchurch, New Zealand.  One of the advantages to working at a small college--Northern State University allowed us to teach our classes an extra half-hour during the semester and we gave our final exams at Thanksgiving.  We packed up our family and spent a week in New Zealand and over a month driving up Australia's east coast.  Needless to say, we enjoyed numerous adventures.

On our last day in New Zealand, we rented a car rather than pay for one of the congress's excursions. (We should have struck out on our own from the beginning!)  Despite driving on the left side of the road, we found ourselves at Authur's Pass, high in the New Zealand Alps.  Our goal was the Kea,  the world's only alpine parrot and restricted to New Zealand's South Island.

We arrived at the pass at noon. A park official informed us, "Your timing is rotten, mate.  Keas are only seen at dawn and dusk."  Crestfallen, we continued a short distance away from the pass and parked at a roadside rest.  Suddenly a Kea flew over and landed on a nearby rock.  I inched my way toward the bird, taking photos as I approached.  A bus full of Japanese tourists stopped and they began taking photos of the birder getting closer and closer to the large parrot (I am not sure they were that interested in the bird). The photo below is uncropped.  I am not sure I wanted to get any closer to that beak!
Keas are omnivorous--they will eat almost anything, animal or vegetable.  Unfortunately that includes sheep, an animal you do not want to poach in New Zealand.  The government paid a bounty on Keas until 1970.  By then, only about 5000 Keas remained.  Full protection was afforded to the Kea in 1986.  Since 1999, Kea numbers have again fallen, presumably due to nest predation by possums.  Today the bird is considered to be endangered (Wikipedia).

Keas have an odd predilection for rubber.  The bird I was photographing flew up, and was joined by a second bird.  Both landed on our rental car and began tearing at the window sealant--much to our younger son's consternation. He had remained in the car, being once again embarrassed by his father's bird chasing.  Keas are known to slash car and bike tires and make moon-roofs out convertible tops. Keas will also carry off any belonging left unguarded.  When we returned our car to the rental company, we did not mention the Kea attack.

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