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Alpine Parrots…no, really, parrots at tree-line.

If you were a parrot, would you live in this chilly realm?

Yes, if you’re a Kea.  A large, endemic NZ parrot, the bronze-green Kea (Nestor notabilis) spends most of its time in high alpine areas and steep rocky valleys of the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island.

Kea can be easy to photograph because of some bad habits they’ve taken up, like hanging around places where people park cars in mountain turnouts, hiking huts, and ski areas.  They are industrious, strong-beaked and curious, and will methodically shred back-pack, tent, or windshield wipers just because it’s entertaining. The Department of Conservation has had to put up signs about this mischievous beakhavior:

Their destructiveness has gotten them into a lot of trouble with people, and although things are slightly better now that they are fully protected, Keas have had a bounty on their heads most of the last century, as sheep killers.

(This is as controversial an issue in NZ as wolf-attacks on humans in the US: do they or don’t they?  Apparently, video exists of Keas consuming flesh off the fatty area above the kidneys of living sheep…)

Though they spend a lot of time on the ground, Keas are strong flyers, and we were lucky enough to see a pair larking and calling loudly from over a high patch of beech forest in craggy, snow-dusted Fjordlands terrain.  This is more satisfying than seeing them scouting for food from tourists at the entrance to the one-way Homer Tunnel where vehicles must wait for up to 15 minutes for a green light.  But it’s easier to get photos of them there, and here’s one of a Kea doing a pretty good impression of a roadrunner.

(Photos, Top: E. Shock; Kea and Kea running, A. Shock)

Posted by Allison on May 7th 2009 10:58 pm | One Comment
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One Response to “Alpine Parrots…no, really, parrots at tree-line.”

  1. […] big alpine parrot, its head partially obscured by vegetation, was one of the freeloaders who hang out near the line […]

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