The only flightless parrot, the kakapo (Strigops habroptila) is also the heaviest parrot and appears to be an amalgamation of an owl and a parrot. Kakapos are large, nocturnal birds which are endemic to small islands around New Zealand and with a lifespan of almost 100 years, it is one of the longest living birds! The kakapo is a truly unique bird, being the only member of the genus Strigops, and they were once widespread throughout New Zealand before humans arrived. However, they have since become critically endangered due to the introduction of foreign mammals to the country which prey on this feathered wonder.
This bird can be easily identified by its moss-green plumage, dotted with patches of yellow and black, and its disc-like face (resembling the face of owls). They also have a large grey beak which they use to consume their strictly vegetarian diet made up of leaves, flowers, bark, roots, bulbs, fruit and seeds. During their mating seasons (which are summer and autumn), males make loud booming calls to attract females. Currently, they live on forested islands around New Zealand, but they used to live in a range of vegetated habitats.
In April 2018, the adult population of kakapos was recorded as a mere 149 individuals, making it one of the most endangered animals alive today. Their tragic story began when the first human settlers arrived in New Zealand (the Maori people) hundreds of years ago. But their downfall grew worse when European invaders arrived, bringing foreign predators with them such as cats, rats, ferrets and stoats that killed and ate the kakapo’s eggs and chicks. By the late 20th century, less than 50 kakapos remained in New Zealand. Conservation efforts finally began and in 2012 the surviving population was moved to three separate, predator-free islands where they could live their life without human disruption.
Thankfully, there is still hope for the kakapo and conservation efforts are steadily improving their population. As I have learned more about the kakapo, I am reminded of the tragic dodo (Raphus cucullatus) and how they were driven to extinction from the island of Mauritius when humans introduced foreign animals and began hunting the defenceless birds. However, we have the power to avoid a repeat of the tale of the dodo, we can hopefully help these birds and show that we have learned from our past mistakes. Like the dodo, the kakapo has uniquely evolved to be perfectly adapted to its predator-free, vegetated island habitat and it is awful to see their adaptations being used against them.