4 Jan 2024

Summer science: Kākā in Wellington

From Our Changing World, 5:00 am on 4 January 2024
A large brown parrot sits on a railing covered with crumbs with Wellington city buildings in the background.

A kākā in Wellington city called "Kim". Photo: © Judi Lapsley-Miller

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Our summer science series continues with a story from Samantha Lloyd-Evans, a student from the Centre for Science in Society at Victoria University of Wellington.

Samantha takes us for a walk in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, where kākā numbers have skyrocketed in recent years, thanks to conservation efforts.  

This increase in kākā has led to an increase in human-kākā interactions, as people learn how to live with these large endemic parrots.  

For the most part, encounters with these inquisitive birds are positive. But seemingly helpful actions such as feeding kākā can have unintended consequences, says Ellen Irwin, lead conservation ranger at Zealandia Ecosanctuary. 

Why feeding kākā is a bad idea

Wellingtonians feeding kākā in their backyards can cause a nutrient imbalance in the diet of kākā chicks, Ellen explains. This can lead to metabolic bone disease and other complications, and the chicks often die in the nest. 

A large brown parrot head with a deformed beak. The parrot appears to be hanging from a branch in the forest.

A kākā with scissor beak. Photo: Kat McBaeth

There are other risks to bird feeding as well, such as attracting pests or accidentally giving the kākā too many calories, similar to getting a toddler hyped up on sugar.  

These risks are why Zealandia and other conservation groups are pushing to educate locals on how to safely interact with native wildlife. 

Planting natives in your garden, practising responsible pet ownership, and joining your local trapping group are actions you can take to help native birds like kākā. Ellen also encourages the use of apps like iNaturalist to keep track of the birds seen in Wellington. 

Listen to join Ellen for a stroll through the lush ngahere forest of Zealandia while discussing Wellington’s booming kākā population and how you can help them. 

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