Kakapos: The grace of slowness

The kakapo is bird native to New Zealand and is one of the largest flightless parrots in the world. In the following blog you can learn more about this fascinating animal which is sadly facing extinction.


The kakapo is one of the largest flightless parrots in the world. Originally it populated large parts of New Zealand, but now it is severely threatened with extinction and, therefore, only occurs in certain nature reserves. Intense protective measures and programmes are intended to ensure the survival of the species.

Plump, slow, flightless and certainly not a master of reproduction – the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) is truly no survivor. If, in the animal world, the attributes fast, strong, skillful, majestic, intelligent or elegant would be regarded as a measure for positive things, then the Kakapo would not perform particularly well. But despite or perhaps because of this incompetence in perfection a strange fascination emanates from the big parrot.

The kakapo represents the single representative from the subfamily of the Strigopinae. The parrot. with moss-green plumage, grows up to 60 cm and weighs between 3 and 4 kg. As an endemic species it is exclusively native to New Zealand. Because of the high risk situation in recent decades, including the increasing loss of habitat and the threat of imported land predators, the populations known to exist have been resettled to smaller, uninhabited islands previously freed from imported predators.
Due to New Zealand's geographically isolated location and the lack of any land mammals, the birds have established themselves as the most successful animal group on the green island. Since they never had to get used to predators, some species have lost their ability to fly, including the kakapo. It moves relatively slowly, exclusively on foot and has no flight instinct, whereby it becomes ever more the prey of invasive land robbers such as cats, dogs or martens.


The reproductive behaviour of the Kakapos is particularly extraordinary. Mating is carried out in arenas, so-called "Leks", which is completely atypical for most parrot species. During mating season, the males leave their territories and visit the leks which are usually located on a hill. Here, they construct their individual mating space in form of an approximately 50 cm wide hollow, that is cleaned regularly of leaves and small branches. The males fight for the best spot with loud humming and croaking, flapping wings and feather spreads. The females which also leave their territories and visit the leks gather around the males and observe their fights. If the female has chosen a male, it the two animals copulate. The female then returns to her territory and lays about two to four eggs, which are subsequently incubated. The male continues its mating activities in order to find further females for reproduction.
During the mating season the male is very sexually excitable. There are reports that male kakapos have tried to mate with branches or a rolled up sweater.

In general, the kakapo reproduces only extremely slowly, which further aggravates its dangerous situation. Males begin with its combination-calls only from the 5. year of life, females are even only from the 9. year of life to the combination-ready from. In addition, Kakapos do not reproduce every year, but only, if the food supply allows it, as a rule every three to five years.
The kakapo populations released on New Zealand's offshore small islands are now recovering. Due to their high protection status, however, the uninhabited islands may only be entered by professional conservationists and researchers. In the meantime, the number of individuals has risen from an estimated 22 animals in 1986 to about 140 in 2015. However, there is still a long way to go before the species can be sustainably safeguarded, and it is still unclear whether it will finally become extinct.

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