Kea (Nestor notabilis)


Class: Aves
Order: Psittaciformes
Family:    Psittacidae
Size:    Length: 19 inches (48 cm)
Weight: Average 2 pounds (922 grams)
Diet: Mostly seeds, berries, shoots, roots and nectar, but also worms, insects, larvae and carrion
Distribution: New Zealand
Young:  2 to 4 chicks, every 2 to 3 years
Animal Predators:  Unknown
IUCN Status: Vulnerable
Terms: Young: Chick
Lifespan: Up to 15 years



·     The kea is rated as one of the most intelligent birds in the world.

·     Their name comes from the call they make — “keeaaah.”

·     Keas are the most plentiful parrots in New Zealand.

·     The kea was given partial protection in 1970.

·     They are also known as “nestor parrots” or “mountain parrots.”



Keas have a dark brown head, dull green on their back and wings and reddish-orange on the underside of their wings. They also have bright blue wing tips and a beige-yellow belly. Females are slightly smaller than males, weighing about 20 percent less and have a shorter, straighter beak. 



Keas live in high mountain areas and forests on the southern mainland of New Zealand, from Fiordland north to Nelson and Marlborough. They inhabit burrows under rocks or among tree roots. 


Feeding Habits

A large percentage of their diet consists of seeds, berries, shoots, roots and nectar, but they will also eat worms, insects, larvae and carrion. 



Although males are reportedly polygamous, when a female is in her nest sitting on the eggs, the male comes several times per day to bring her food. After the eggs hatch, in three to four weeks, the male brings food for both his mate and the babies. He plays with the chicks, helps teach them to fly and keeps an eye on them when they first begin to leave the nest. The chicks begin to explore outside of the nest at two weeks, but will remain nearby for the first six weeks. When they reach 13 to 14 weeks of age, the chicks leave the nest to venture out on their own. They attain full adult plumage at 18 months.



These large parrots are extremely social and gather in groups. Although they are strong fliers, they spend a good amount of time on the ground as well.  They are capable diggers and their nests are holes in the ground. Keas are extremely playful and energetic, but with the alpine areas where they live recently becoming popular getaways for people, their antics are often unappreciated by people. Keas like to gather together around campsites, parking lots or ski hills to get free handouts of food, and having their food handed to them leaves a lot of free time for mischief. Juvenile males especially spend their free time pulling rubber from cars, damaging skis and ski racks, and rummaging through backpacks, pulling everything apart. Most keas have absolutely no fear of humans.



Although they do not kill sheep, keas have been seen pecking at them and feeding from carcasses, so it was thought that they were actually causing the deaths of these sheep. Bounties were paid to kill keas, and it is estimated that 150,000 were slaughtered in the last 130 years. Keas numbers are now estimated at less than 250 mature individuals. Keas became fully protected in 1986 when farmers were persuaded to give up the legal right to shoot keas. In exchange, government agencies are looking into kea’s “attacks” on sheep and are trying to find ways of coexisting with the species. 



Harrison, C. and Greensmith, A. (1993). Birds of the World. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited