Conservation Status Vulnerable
The plumage on the back of a kea is olive green. Their head is a darker olive green. On the top of the head and the back of the neck the feathers are yellow. Their chest is an orangey brown. On its back and at the beginning of the tail they have red feathers. At the edges of the wings and on the bottom of the tail the feathers are blue. At the very end of the tail is a line of black tails. Their upper beak is grey and incredibly long. The undersides of their feathers are red. It is about 3 times the length of the lower beak. The irises are brown.
Keas measure 48cm (19 in). They weigh only 0.8-1kg (1.8-2.2lb).
It is estimated that in the wild most keas live to be just 5 years old. In captivity the oldest recorded kea in 2008 was 50 years old.
The kea is an omnivore. Their diet consists of 40 plant species. From these keas may take the fruit, the entire plant, seeds, roots, flowers or the whole plant. Other birds, beetle larvae and a number of animals that may be as large as a sheep are also taken. Reports also exist of them killing horses, rabbits and dogs. The kea does not actually kill these animals. Instead it tears fat from the back of the animals who later die from this area becoming infected.
Keas are one of the only 10 parrot species which live in New Zealand. They are found along the west coast of the South Island. Though they do not currently there is evidence that they once lived on the South Island.
They make their home on the alpine ridges in the Southern beech forests. Lowland river valleys and coastal forests are also home to these species. They will move to low altitudes in the winter and the higher altitudes over summer. Most of their time is spent on the ground.
Kea nests are built in rock crevasses, holes and under logs.
Keas are polygamous. During the breeding season males may mate with up to four females. The females build a nest on the ground beneath large trees, in a rock crevice or dug in under roots. Nests consist of a 1-6m tunnel which leads to a large chamber. Inside there is lichen, moss, ferns and rotting woods.
Between July and January two to five eggs which are white are deposited into this nest. 21 days later these hatch. Females spend an hour a day and part of the night feeding a short distance for the nest. Males help with the feeding when the chicks are about 1 month old. Chicks fledge after 10-13 weeks.
Only 27% of the kea chicks will live for longer than a year.
Groups of keas consist of 10-13 individuals. When it comes time for the adults to mate juvenile flocks of 100 may form.
Keas have a semi-nocturnal activity pattern. They undertake most of their activity at night in the summer months.
These birds are very noisy. On the ground they move about using a sideways hopping motion.
This species has been documented using a number of tools. They are highly intelligent and have been trained to move items in a certain order to receive treats. They are incredibly curious and this causes damage in some areas. Regularly they are seen stealing items and destroying items like windscreen wipers, passports and skis.
Keas are sometimes referred to as the ‘clown of the mountain’ due to their cheeky personality.
In the past a bounty was offered for killing keas due to the perception that they killed sheep regularly.
From 1967-1992 the kea featured on the New Zealand $10 note. In 1992 it was replaced by the whio.
Top – By Rosino (are you looking at me? Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Middle – By Keas_displaying_orange_underside_of_wing.jpg: klaasmer derivative work: Avenue (Keas_displaying_orange_underside_of_wing.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Bottom – By Sid Mosdell from New Zealand (Kea Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons