I adore all animals (with the notable exception of sandflies, which can all burn in bleach, and centipedes – the less said there the better!), from bunnies to bambis, and even to mice and rats. However, I’ve never lived anywhere where mammals were native, and I feel a bit bad going all gooey over what are essentially introduced pets.
So it’s a good thing I like birds! And New Zealand has some amazing birds. Around Wellington, in the near vicinity of our house, I can see tui and fantail, kereru and the occasional bellbird. On my recent South Island road trip I got to see far more exciting birds.
Like this kea:
Yep. It’s a parrot. An alpine parrot. In NZ. Living way up in the mountains, above the snowline!
And they really are parrots. Check out the colouring on the feathers:
*Swoon!* I live in hope of finding a discarded kea feather, just for the iridescent olive gorgeousness of it (fun side note: the Metropolitan Museum of Art uses round coloured metal tags as proof of payment/entry. Each day’s tag has a different colour, and each colour has a name. One of their tags is a green between olive and lime, and the colour name? Kea!)
They are also very much parrots in their behaviour: curious, fearless and cheeky. They will let you come right up to them, and will sneak up behind you and steal anything shiny, or tear the seals off your car windows, just to figure out what they are.
I saw these keas in Arthur’s Pass, just hanging out around the parking lot of the visitors centre, or having a party in the bushes along the roadside. They were quite interested in me, especially when I started talking to them as I would to Felicity (and, like Felicity, they talked back!)
The kea hanging out by the side of road were the most fun, climbing up and down branches using their beaks (they really are parrots!) and wrestling with each other from branch to branch like kittens or puppies.
Sadly, because keas are so curious and fearless, they are at risk from humans. They can be quite destructive in their curiosity, and they aren’t afraid to wander around on the road. In the past they were shot as sheep-killers, but these days they are more likely to be killed carelessly (by cars) or with care: by silly tourists who feed them, and mess up their diet and ability to feed themselves.
Kea are now endangered, so the kea population is monitored closely. Every kea was saw was marked with identification bands, and one (shown two photos up) even had a radio tracking device, with an antennae between its wings.
On our trip back through Arthur’s Pass, at the end of the road trip, it was pouring rain, and we didn’t see as many keas. We did fine one beautiful but rather bedraggled specimen at a popular tourist lookout.
It soon became clear why Mr Kea was out in the rain. Some naughty tourist had ignored the numerous signs warning people not to feed the kea, and had given him a biscuit. He was industriously picking the crumbs off the metal railing with his beak. Tsk tsk.
Though they can be annoying, kea are pretty popular. Less universally admired are weka, despite their similarities to the much-beloved kiwi.
Like kiwi, weka are round, flightless birds, endemic to NZ. Where kiwi are extremely endangered, weka have been able to thrive under some conditions, and (depending on the subspecies) are either stable or threatened. They are also considered to be extremely annoying. I got quite excited and clucky about seeing a weka, but my sister wrinkled her nose and scoffed about them being “horrible bush hens”. Apparently they are really loud, and tend to steal things.
Still I think they are rather beautiful, with their pseudo-feathers (far too fluffy and hair-like to contribute to any flight), and look quite industrious, scurrying about in the bush. I enjoyed my encounter with this one, spotted at the Jack’s Mill School at Kotuku.
And last of all, for cute, cunning, ever so engaging birds, is the South Island robin, which showed up at snacktime on our Charming Creek walk, and proceeded to be the most charming thing of all, flitting round us in circles, stopping at every branch as it went round to peer at us and wonder what we were and what we were doing.
Oh, and it has whiskers, which pretty much makes it the most adorable thing ever.
Not content with the safety of the tree branches, it even ventured to land not an arms distance away from the Chef, turning it’s head this way and that to determine if we had anything interesting to share.
It’s not really a robin (rather a type of sparrow, with a distinctive upright, long-legged stance), but it’s mannerisms and shape are so similar it’s no surprise early settlers were reminded of English robins.
So there you go: real parrots and fake robins, and un-feathered flightless rails! What an amazing country…