Kākā returns to New Plymouth confounding experts

October 26, 2022
Native parrot, the kākā. (File image)

There is a mystery in the air in Taranaki.

By Robin Martin for rnz.co.nz

It has been decades since the distinctive calls of the cheeky native parrot, kākā, have been heard in New Plymouth.

But the bird is back - and the flash of their red-orange underwing and crimson belly-plumage has been spotted in parks and on suburban streets.

The mystery is - where have they come from?

New Plymouth author Janet Hunt knows a thing or two about kākā - after all she has written about them.

So, you can imagine her joy when something unusual caught her ear while out gardening.

"I could hear these calls, because I'm really tuned into the sound of bird calls, and I could hear these calls that were a bit different. They were not rosellas or any of those other little birds and I looked up and I could see a kākā in the trees two or three houses across.

"A member of Forest and Bird and Birds New Zealand, Hunt sprang into action.

"I ran inside and got my camera and shot down to the end of the street and the kākā was in a kōwhai at the end of the street and I got a couple of photos of it and since then we've had about three other sightings, and often pairs of birds."

Hunt had heard whispers about kākā being in the city but it was exciting to have actually seen them.

There are thought to be less than 10,000 kākā living in the wild - mostly on offshore islands or in the vicinity of heavily predator-controlled sanctuaries.

Department of Conservation scientific officer Terry Green said Taranaki had been off the radar for the "at-risk" parrots.

"Taranaki's been sort of a dead zone for kākā for a number of years, so they must be coming from somewhere and it's somewhat puzzling where they might be coming from."

Green said the birds were strong flyers and know to travel long distances in search of food, especially in winter.

"Kāpiti Island's just down south of Taranaki there ... well it's not just south it's a wee way away. There's obviously birds in the Wellington region that have come out of Zealandia and then there's birds to the north in the southern Waikato or King Country around Pureora and there's birds in the central North Island as well."

Taranaki regional council senior Ecologist Halema Jamieson said it was aware of increased kākā sightings.

"Over the last three or four years, we've been getting them more and more frequently and there's been reports of them sticking around almost the entire year in places like the Te Henui Walkway, around Brooklands, Pukekura Park and now at Barrett's Domain.

"So, the signs are positive and rather than one or two birds we're often getting three or four at a time."

Kākā nest in holes in trees and are particularly vulnerable to possums and stoats.

Jamieson believed Towards Predator-Free Taranaki - a council-backed intensive region-wide predator-trapping programme started in 2018 - was beginning to make a difference.

She said you would know it if you stumbled upon a kākā.

"They're quite a large bird, they're a large brown bird, but there's this amazing splash of reddy-orange colours under their wings, so that's a good thing to look out for.

"And usually you'll hear them before you see them. They'll make this sort of 'raa raa whoo whoo' sound as you see them in the trees and flying past you."

People wanting to get involved in the Towards Predator Free Taranaki programme can pick up subsidised traps at Hunting & Fishing in New Plymouth, council offices and some schools.


More Stories