Great News! The World’s ‘Fattest’ Parrot Species is Swelling in Numbers

The kakapo is a rare parrot which is remarkable for several reasons, not least of which is its unusually robust body. Scientists are hailing a population milestone as the once-dwindling kakapo’s numbers have seen a significant boom over the past year.

A native of New Zealand, the kakapo was once one of New Zealand’s most widespread birds. The flightless parrot has resplendent plumage and an owl-like face. It’s large body also marks it out in parrot species which are usually far more slender—earning it the ignoble title of the world’s “fattest” parrot because of its comparatively large body mass.

Over the past two centuries or so, kakapo numbers have plummeted. This is a result of invasive pest species which have hunted the kakapo as well as their forest homes disappearing as humans clear land for farming.

Now, the kakapo is critically endangered. The 147 adult birds thought to be alive today are all living in carefully-controlled island environments. As a result of their small numbers, however, scientists are able to keep an unusually close eye on the kakapo, even giving each adult a name and carrying out various operations, including DNA sequencing and fertility monitoring. That’s why when egg-laying season came around this year, scientists could track the kakapo’s breeding. They were soon overjoyed at what they found.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation reports that 89 kakapo chicks hatched this season, with around 75 expected to make it to adulthood. This is double the success rate of the last season in 2016, giving conservationists a reason to be optimistic that, while obviously not close to recovery, the kakapo is on surer ground.

But this begs the question: what has led to this abundant number of offspring? The scientists aren’t sure, but they do have a few theories.

Andrew Digby, a science advisor to New Zealand’s kakapo recovery program, believes that the answer may lie in how closely tied the kakapo is to New Zealand’s rimu trees, a large evergreen tree that is widespread in New Zealand forests.

Kakapo females control when mating activities can take place and time it with the fruiting of the rimu trees, which occurs every two to four years. Digby notes: “We don’t quite know what the trigger is but one of the things we are looking at is that the rimu berry is really high in vitamin D, a super food basically, which is associated with fertility and health.”

Digby notes that the rimu tree has enjoyed a particularly strong season this year, which may in turn have given the kakapo an extra boost in its breeding activity. He tells the Guardian, “In the last two seasons there have been huge quantities of fruit not seen for 50 years, so that’s why all of the female kakapo know it is time to breed, and actually started much earlier than usual, meaning some have now been able to nest twice.”

Digby and team are constantly logging the kakapo’s activities with one solid aim in mind: they wish to make the kakapo as iconic as animals like the elephant and tiger. To do that, they need to ensure that the kakapo’s numbers continue to grow. As that happens, the team envisions retreating from their hands-on management and allowing the kakapo to fend for themselves. Before that happens, the researchers say they would like the population to hit 500 or more.

Currently, the kakapo are housed on four predator-free islands where their environments can be—to some extent—controlled and adjusted as needed. When the population reaches a healthier level it may well be that they are allowed to spread beyond those islands, but for now they are safe in the care of the conservation team.

While this isn’t the comeback moment for the kakapo just yet, news that kakapo will be busy rearing a large brood of new young is welcome news and one step toward ensuring that these parrots remain a natural wonder and not a distant memory.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

37 comments

Sarah A
Sarah A24 days ago

that's very good

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Shae Lee
Shae Lee24 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Virgene L
Virgene L24 days ago

Good news indeed! What an interesting and exotic (and beautiful) bird. Thank you for saving them.

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Leo Custer
Leo Custer25 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Lesa DiIorio
Past Member 26 days ago

thank you Steve...

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Leo C
Leo Custer26 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Terri S
Terri S26 days ago

Gonna have to google that one. Never heard of a kakapo. Want to see a better picture of this portly parrot!! Thank you to all who are participating in saving this iconic bird!!!!!

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Ann S
Ann S26 days ago

Wonderful news. I am at the moment reading "Last Chance to See" by Douglas Adams where I read about the Kakapo.

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Toni W
Toni W26 days ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W26 days ago

TYFS

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