The Kea Parrot



  • Common Name:  Kea

  • Other Common Names:  New Zealand Mountain Parrot

  • Scientific Name:  Nestor notabilis

  • Group:  

  • Origin or Range:  New Zealand

  • Relative Size:  Average

  • Average Lifespan:  ??? years

  • Compatibility:  Average 

  • Category:  Parrots

The entertaining Kea is a parrot that is loved by some and disliked by some. These lovely birds have entertaining habits, though they have known to be destructive as a result of their inquisitive and playful natures.

Normally, Keas are found in groups of about ten birds. During the breeding season when adults are mating, juveniles will form large flocks of up to 100 birds. They eat berries, leaves, fruits, nectar, insects, roots, and carrion, and have been known to scavenge for food in human trash receptacles. Keas are fairly hardy, and once acclimatized they can tolerate a range of temperatures. There does tend to be a seasonal migration to warmer altitudes in the wild, though some birds will permanently live above the snowline. Keas are often quite lively and noisy, and do well in groups. Keas move by hopping, and will hop in a sideways manner in order to move forward. They seem to prefer the ground to arboreal habitats and spend much of their time on the ground. In captivity, as well as in the wild, Keas are playful parrots. They are inquisitive, although their ideas of investigation, chewing for example, have been known to cause considerable damage. They have been known to damage the tires of campers' vehicles as well as their campsites, and have damaged ski equipment and electrical wiring. Keas are semi-nocturnal, and in captivity they are known to be most active during dark or stormy weather in addition to nighttime hours.

Keas are normally about 19 inches (48 centimeters) long when they reach maturity. Females usually weigh less than males. Their adult plumage is acquired at about 18 months of age, and females can be distinguished from males by their beaks, which are often less sharply curved and shorter than those of males. The beaks are brownish gray. The Kea's plumage is an olive green shade, and each feather has a black edging. Over the yellowish green colored crown and nape, the feathers have dark striping. The iris of a Kea is dark brown. The eyes have dark brown patches immediately behind and below them, and both the abdomen and breast have a brownish tinge to their green coloration. The lower back of the Kea is usually orange to red in color, and each feather is edged in a dark brown to black shade. The under wing coverts are also orange-red, though the webbing of the primary flight feathers is blue. The flight feathers of a Kea have yellow banding on their undersides. The tail is bluish green in color, though it does have a black tip. On the underside of each feather, yellowish orange banding can be seen. Keas have dark gray feet, but juveniles' feet are more yellow. Juveniles also have distinctly yellow tinted skin to their periopthalmic rings, at the base of their mandibles, and at their ceres.

First noted by Gould in 1856, the Kea is native to the mountains of New Zealand's South Island. It is normally found in forests or scrublands between altitudes of 900 feet (300 meters) and 6,000 feet (2,000 meters). Sadly, Keas were hunted through the centuries, particularly in the 1800's, though they did receive partial protection from the government in 1970. Although Keas have been persecuted by humans, many continue to make their homes near human habitations. Though population numbers have declined, Keas do not appear to be seriously threatened. In fact, Keas are an important part of New Zealand's tourism industry. Many people come to national parks specifically to see Keas, who have the reputation of being the "clowns" of mountain ranges in New Zealand. Campers in these areas are warned not to leave any items unattended, as Keas can destroy them with unhealthy consequences for the Kea, as well as loss on the part of the tourist.

An appropriate aviary for Keas is about 18 by 7.5 by 6 feet (6 by 2.5 by 2 meters) and in cold climates, an inner room or roosting box should be provided. Usually an earth or sand covered floor is appropriate. Plenty of hiding places should be provided in the form of pipes or tree roots. A supply of fresh branches and roots should also be present for chewing. In captivity, a Kea's diet can usually be made up of fruits and vegetables with carbohydrate and protein supplements. Keas are known for their ready acceptance of most foods. Often maize and brown rice can be cooked and offered as a meal. Soaked pigeon feed, peanuts, hemp, and sunflower seeds have also been offered with good results. Vegetables, a large portion of the diet, can be offered in the form of carrots, potatoes, cabbages, greens, and beets. A variety of fruits are accepted: oranges, berries, and passion fruits to name a few. Protein can be offered in the form of rotten tree stumps full of insects placed just outside the aviary, or cooked bits of meat.

Usually Keas are good breeders. Females reach sexual maturity when they are about three years old, though male Keas are not normally sexually mature for four or five years after their hatching. In some areas of the world, it is forbidden to breed Keas, so be sure you know your local laws before you attempt this. In captivity, Keas have been known to breed in colony settings. Keas normally lay clutches of three to four eggs, which will be incubated for about 29 days. After ten weeks, the young usually fledge and many breeders prefer to leave them with their parents until they are several months old. In the wild, Keas will breed between July and January, using nests built in rocky areas. They have also been known to nest in dead trees at high altitudes, in crevices, or in tree roots. The nest is lined with lichens and mosses, and the clutch contains between two and four eggs. Male Keas may mate with up to four females. Normal incubation in the wild lasts three weeks. In the wild, the fledgling period is usually about 13 weeks.


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Copyright 2004 [Southeast Texas Avian Rescue, Inc.]. All rights reserved. Revised: 12/10/11