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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 3 (June 1, 1939)


The New Zealand Kakapo.

The New Zealand Kakapo.

The kakapo is one of New Zealand's rare and most interesting birds. Though larger than, it is similar to, the kaka, and its name in Maori means “kaka of night.” English names for this peculiar bird are the owl parrot or night parrot.

The bird is of the parrot species and is bigger than a hawk. Its colouring is protective, being green and brown on the upper parts, and yellowish green underneath, the whole presenting a mottled appearance which makes the bird difficult to see in the bush.

Although possessing large wings, it cannot fly, and walks with a clumsy wobble. The wings are used only when running fast or when soaring from a tree top to the ground. It can climb trees or steep slopes very rapidly, using its powerful beak and claws.

Like the owl, it is almost blind in the daytime, and lies under logs dozing until night comes, when the hunt for food starts. The food consists mainly of berries, seeds, honey and moss.

Possibly the most interesting thing about the kakapo is that they mate only every second year, and all mate in the same year. The mating call of the male bird is a deep bugle note similar to the boom of the bittern, and on a still night can be heard miles away. It nests in January and February in hollow logs, amongst roots, or in fissures in the rock. The eggs are large and white in colour. Many chicks die from want of food, and the female bird at this period is in very poor condition. The male bird, strange to say, has usually a well-fed appearance, and this, in addition to the fact that he is never seen near the nest, has led to the belief that he takes no responsibility for his family, leaving the entire feeding of them to their mother.

The kakapo, at one time fairly numerous about Lake Wairarapa and in the Tararua mountains, is now extinct in the North Island. They still exist in most parts of the West Coast of the South Island, but only in very small numbers.

About 1900 some were placed on Kapiti, and are reported to be holding their own. A similar attempt to establish them on Little Barrier was a failure.

The Maoris state that over a hundred years ago, kakapo were very numerous, and were frequently seen in large groups with a leader acting as sentry over them. Catch the leader before he sounded a warning, and the rest were easily captured, but let him sound a warning note and one and all wobbled rapidly to safety. Their tracks through the bush and along the ridges were as well defined as the deer tracks of today.

Wild cats, dogs, rats and man have slaughtered thousands of these innocent and guileless birds. Many of the early gold-miners ate kakapo until they tired of it.

The picture accompanying this article was taken in the Tutoko River Valley, Milford Sound, where the writer has frequently heard the deep boom of the male bird. It is interesting to note that recently two kiwis were caught in the same locality. Here also the kea, kaka and weka are fairly plentiful.

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