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I have been digging through my image archives in my gmail account and found some real treasures that my readers sent to me. Unfortunately, I overlooked quite a few images that were sent when I was in the hospital and had poor computer access. So let me fix this oversight during the next few weeks;

Kea, Nestor notabilis.

Image: Daniel Collins [larger view].

The photographer writes; This particular shot was taken around Arthurs Pass, in the middle of the South Island, NZ. This is standard Kea habitat, but I suspect you'd probably see more than in undeveloped valleys because a lot of cars stop for a breather here - and keas are very social. This kea wasn't doing anything other than inspecting us, and perhaps hoping for some food. They're very pesky and are known to rip the rubber rim out from around window screens. But their plumage under their wings is a sight.

More like this

More than just very pesky. Positively machiavellian, and have been known to steal shoes, tents, packs, anything removeable from your car, and on occasion let down your tires.

Interesting bird. At first glance, it looked to me like a cross between a parrot and a raptor. And according to Wikipedia, they're omnivores with fondness for carrion, who have even been known (rarely) to attack sheep.

How common is carnivory among parrots? I always assumed that they were herbivores. Do any of your birds get meaty treats?

Kea are very VERY smart and mischievous birds and get bored easily. A New Zealander colleague of mine described them as being kind of like flying chimpanzees in their cleverness. He was "tramping" in the mountains in a kea area once and while he was away from his camp site, keas stole his boots and threw them off a cliff. He told me that auto insurance damage policies in New Zealand often exclude kea damage. I have been told that keas killed sheep by driving them over cliffs so they can eat their fat- being parrots in an alpine environment is energetically expensive so they need to eat energy dense foods.

How common is carnivory among parrots?

I know of only two cases of omnivorous parrots, both, funnily enough, from New Zealand. You've already mentioned keas, which are also known to dig petrel chicks out of nesting burrows*. The sheep-attacking side of keas has caused a lot of arguments over the years (do they or don't they?), though they will certainly scavenge carcasses and probably attack trapped sheep.

*From Worthy and Holdaway (2002): "Further evidence for the carnivorous tendencies of kea is video footage of individuals that have learned to take cicks of Hutton's shearwater from their burrows in the subalpine grassland of the Seaward Kaikoura Range. One was seen to repeatedly look into the burrow, gauge the distance back from the entrance where the shearwater chick was standing, and then dig into the burrow from directly above the chick, killing it with a bite to the head."

The other carnivorous parrot is the Antipodes Island parakeet (Cyanoramphus unicolor) which will take abandoned eggs and dead chicks around penguin colonies, as well as taking storm petrels from their burrows. It is notable that both these species inhabit low-productivity habitats (temperate mountains or sub-Antarctic islands) with a lot less vegetation than most parrot habitats.

My first impression when looking at the picture is how much the bird reminds me of a larger darker slender billed conure
(Enicognathus leptorhynchus)I wonder where they diverged from each other on the parrot family tree.

Like most NZ trampers (hikers for North Americans), I have plenty of stories of antics that kea get up to.

On one trip up an easy peak, we stopped at a shoulder on the ridge. A kea joined us. We started off again, moving single-file up the ridge. The kea decided to take up position as the fifth man and waddled up behind us all the way to the summit. On reaching the summit, he hopped on the pick of a colleague's ice axe and started performing summersaults to amuse us. Eventually he decided we were too boring and moved off.

I find that they are fairly easy to call up; sometimes on the tops I'll mimic a few kea calls and one will come over to check me out.

Off topic, sometime ago you (GrrlScientist) mentioned anonymity in peer review. I've added a comment to that blog but if you'll excuse my cross-posting here, a portion of this articles follows up on this and related topics:…

wow, thanks for sharing your stories about kea: they made me smile.

and DeafScientist; i did get your message and will hopefully write a follow-up about the peer-review issue on my blog. it's an important issue that deserves more attention than it receives.

Touring NZ in a camper van we were stopped at an abandoned campground when my friend looked out the window and said, "There's a green parrot outside." I thought she was kidding because everyone knows there are no parrots in NZ. Turned out I was wrong. New Zealand is like a huge bird sanctuary where lots of sheep live and a few people too.

My first impression when looking at the picture is how much the bird reminds me of a larger darker slender billed conure
(Enicognathus leptorhynchus)I wonder where they diverged from each other on the parrot family tree.

Probably not very close to each other. One recent phylogenetic analysis (de Kloet & de Kloet, 2005), for example, found the endemic New Zealand parrots (kea, kaka and kakapo) to form a clade that was sister to all other parrots. The South American parrots, such as conures, macaws and amazons, form a single clade that has a more nested position in the tree (related to the African parrots and cockatoos in de Kloet & de Kloet).

I thought she was kidding because everyone knows there are no parrots in NZ. Turned out I was wrong.

There are eight native parrot species in New Zealand (kakapo, kea, kaka and five Cyanoramphus parakeets) and up to five introduced species (the eastern rosella and sulphur-crested cockatoo definitely have established populations; the galah, rainbow lorikeet and crimson rosella are a bit more doubtful). Of the native species, however, only four are found on the mainland in any numbers (kea, kaka, and yellow-crowned and orange-crowned parakeets) and I would say only the kea and yellow-crowned parakeet are present in any numbers. The orange-crowned parakeet is nearly extinct. The kakapo and red-crowned parakeet are extinct on the mainland, and are now only found on offshore islands.

Yow, those guys sound scary smart.

By David Harmon (not verified) on 18 Feb 2008 #permalink

Keas having fun with a car

I vaguely recollect a nature program from years ago, it showed Keas riding the backs of sheep and tearing open the sheeps back to eat the fat. I don't think they killed the sheep.

By Chris' Wills (not verified) on 18 Feb 2008 #permalink

The Kea characters of Philip Temple's book 'Beak of the Moon' are directly responsible for me joining furry. Without keas, I would not be a raven.