New Zealand parrot Kakariki
“He came in flocks in the seventies; he was a scourge in the eighties; he was shot in thousands for his destruction of grain and fruit; then gradually he seemed to disappear; and now he is rarely heard near civilised parts.” Such were the words of a commentator early last century on the poignant fate of the “pretty little parrot”, the Kakariki.
In the seventies and eighties of the last century the yellow-crowned parakeet together with the red were extremely common but when for any reason its food failed in the forests, such as cold and wet weather or severe frosts, it came out into settled districts and attacked farmers’ and orchardists’ crops.
That food failure was the cause of these irruptions or influxes is indicated, according to the ornithologist, W. R. Oliver, by the fact that in some districts at the same time there was also an invasion of rats. In 1888, he says, there was an irruption of red-crowned parakeets accompanied by smaller numbers of yellow-crowned in Marlborough. On such occasions the parakeets showed no fear of man who tried to lessen the damage done by the birds by shooting them. The parakeets, as the story goes, were not much frightened by the sound of guns and flew just a short distance away and continued foraging. Many thousands were shot.
Two severe irruptions took place in Canterbury in the eighties when it was thought that the birds came from Westland driven out by the failure of food supply on account of wet and cold weather. They were considered among the worst pests in the Hutt Valley in the early days of European settlement and made serious inroads into the hop gardens of Nelson and the wheat crops of Otago. After fifteen years or more of these visitations the number of parakeets decreased considerably and they did not again recover.
There can be no doubt, as Oliver says, that the destruction of the bush, especially the felling of the broad leafed trees, the Kakariki’s favourite haunts, the attacks of mustelids and rats which can get into its nesting holes, the increase of bees in hollow trees, shooting by farmers, trapping by fruit growers, are all reasons for the near demise of this lovely bird.
The Kakariki are members of the parrot family which are mainly tropical birds notable for their colourful plumage. There are two main species, the yellow and red-crown. The red-crown tends to be larger than the yellow.
The Kakariki are basically bright green in colour but as with most green coloured birds, some very beautiful colour varieties are produced. The red-crowned Kakariki is distinguished by a bright crimson forehead, crown and a streak through the eye with violet-blue on the wings while the yellow-crowned has a golden yellow crown. Sometimes specimens have been found where the green gives way to a bright canary yellow while the bright red and violet remain. There have been other specimens taken which are bright red or predominately blue.
Red-crowned parakeets favour holes in branches and trunks of trees, particularly decaying trees, for nesting. They also use crevices in cliffs or among rocks, burrows in the ground or densely matted vegetation. The yellow-crowned, on the other hand, is more exclusive in its use of holes in trees for nesting.
During incubation, the cock calls the hen off the nest and feeds her by regurgitation. Both sexes feed the chicks but the cock usually transfers the food to the hen which then passes it along to the chicks. The red-crowned fledglings are fed on the ground for a period before they can fly which makes them especially vulnerable to predators.
Kakariki are usually solitary or found in pairs, although in autumn and winter they may form small flocks. In flight they make a loud rapid chatter and may also chatter and babble when feeding.
The yellow-crowned, although rare, is to be found throughout the country in forested areas while the red-crowned variety is common to abundant on many islands free of mammalian predators but very rare on the mainland. On Little Barrier Island, the yellow-crowned lives mainly in the forest or ridges above 300 metres while the red-crowned lives mainly in the lower hills and valleys. Although their habitat on the island overlaps, hybridisation does not seem to occur.