Critically Endangered Parrots Enjoy Record-Breaking Breeding Season

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Not only is the kākāpō the world’s fattest parrot, but it seems the bird is now in the running for world’s best shagger.

And it’s not because these parrots love shagging, though I’m sure they do. They’re shagging to literally save their species – and it’s shagging-well worked!

A couple hundred years ago the kākāpō was one of New Zealand’s most common birds. Now however, there are only 147 adults alive. The kākāpō population is so small each adult even has its own individual name, such as Ruth, Hoki, Zephyr and Suzanne.

The parrot, which is nocturnal and the world’s only flightless parrot, is a favourite among New Zealanders, and is known for its charismatic personality and owl-like face, according to The Guardian.

However, the bird has steadily been nearing extinction due to hunting, pests and loss of habitat from deforestation. Infertility and inbreeding have also caused long-term problems for the birds and their reproduction.

This future is looking brighter for the kākāpō though, as this year 76 chicks have hatched, and 60 are expected to make it to adulthood. This is thanks to heavy seeding in the New Zealand bush, which has produced a bumper crop of the parrot’s favourite food – fruit from the Rimu tree, a member of the conifer group of trees.

This year alone, 49 out of 50 breeding females laid eggs, the best year for kākāpō since 2016, in which 37 chicks were hatched.

Dr Andrew Digby, a science advisor to the Department of Conservation’s kākāpō recovery programme, said:

It’s absolutely huge, it’s massive.

In the last two seasons there have been huge quantities of fruit not seen for 50 years, so that’s why all of the female kākāpō know it is time to breed, and actually started much earlier than usual, meaning some have now been able to nest twice.

Andrew added that, during mating season, they don’t give the birds any privacy, as every season is critical and needs to be closely monitored.

He said:

I can be anywhere in the world and log in and find out which kākāpo mated last night, who they mated with, how long they mated for, the quality of the mating – its real big brother stuff.

We have to be intensive at the moment.

Andrew and the team do this by fitting a smart transmitter to every kākāpō in New Zealand, with remote monitoring systems set up in the birds’ nests too. Rangers will check on the chicks every night, hand-rearing them if necessary.

The team are now working to reintroduce the parrot to mainland New Zealand, as they are currently having to be kept in protected, pest-free sanctuaries.

Andrew added:

When you’ve only got a population of 147 anything could wipe them out and they could become extinct quite quickly. We want to get 150 breeding females, and ideally some unmanaged populations, before we can start to relax a little bit.

You can do it, kākāpō!

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Charlie Cocksedge

Charlie Cocksedge

Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.