This page will keep you up to date with present news articles relating to kea.
Pre-2011 articles are posted on our Past News page.
If you come across any items that we have not included on our site, please contact us so that we may upload it.
2013 News Articles
- Pesky Kea Moved to New Hilltop Home
- No More Kea Deaths at Substation
- Kea Killed in 1080 Operation
- Kea Trust Promoting Work,Projects
- Effort to Stop Kea Electrocutions
- Fingerless Thief Filches Tourist's Dough
- Brainiac Parrots Threatened with Widespread Lead Poisoning
2012 News Articles
2011 News Articles
2013 News Articles
Pesky Kea Moved to New Hilltop Home
6 September 2013
The Nelson Mail
Kea causing chaos in Kaiteriteri have today been captured and moved to a new home in Canaan Downs, on the Takaka Hill.
Kaiteriteri resident Jo Ryder said a group of kea had been ‘‘leaving a wake of destruction in their path’’.
At her Martin Farm Rd house, kea have destroyed a boat cover, trampoline pads and roof flashing and seals.
‘‘We thought we had a leak in the house but it turned out to be the kea were eating rubber that was around our hot water cylinder. They are beautiful birds but, man, are they destructive.’’
She estimated the amount of damage would be more than $1000, as the birds had also been attacking her neighbour’s rooftop solar system.
She had tried to shoo the birds away with a hose.
‘‘They fly away and have a wee chat and come back and laugh at you. What concerns me is the number of houses they must have visited that are holiday homes and the owners won’t know anything until they rock up at Christmas.’’
The kea were believed to be nesting in forest near Bethany Park camp, on Martin Farm Rd.
Camp worker Jenny van Heeden said they had gouged a hole in the side of a motor home before eating its insulation. They had also damaged some camp chairs. She said the birds had been present since April but had only become a nuisance in the last month.
Kate Steffens, a senior biodiversity ranger at the Department of Conservation Motueka Field Base, said DOC was reluctant to move kea but in this case, they had ‘‘crossed a line in the sand’’.
The kea capture operation was led by Josh Kemp, a DOC scientist based in Nelson who is regarded as the department’s foremost kea expert.
He said that contrary to popular belief, it was not uncommon for kea to be found in coastal areas.
This morning’s mission went well, and, as expected the group of six kea caught were a ‘‘band of juveniles and sub-adults’’, he said. Once the ringleader was caught the rest of the exercise was straightforward.
The birds were moved to the Canaan Downs location which was inside the Project Janszoon preservation area, instead of the initially planned location at Lake Rotoiti.
‘‘We don’t know if they will stay there but they’ll have a rosy future if they do.’’
He said each bird had a unique leg band.
DOC received half a dozen reports of kea around the Motueka and Takaka valleys a year and had to move kea once or twice a year.
He said there was a strong relationship between kea numbers and predator control.
As Project Janszoon’s predator control programme in the Abel Tasman Nation Park intensified, it was likely kea would become more common nearby.
Mr Kemp advised people to learn to live with kea, by never encouraging them by feeding them and ensuring soft roof flashing or cables were well protected. They could also put bird spikes on their roofs, which make it uncomfortable for birds to perch on a roof apex.
He said kea were ‘‘New Zealand’s bears’’ and once they sniffed out any sort of reward, such as food scraps in an unsecured outdoor rubbish bin, it was hard to get them to leave. ‘‘It’s always very tempting to feed kea, especially if you’ve got kids. You may say ‘just this once’ but that once may be once too often.’’
He estimated the national population of the birds, which are listed as ‘‘at risk’’, at 5000. It is illegal under the Wildlife Act for people to move or kill kea themselves.
No More Kea Deaths at Substation
August 29th 2013
There have been no more reported kea deaths at an Aoraki-Mt Cook substation since February.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) reported then that five kea and a native falcon had been electrocuted over a period of two weeks on Alpine Energy's Unwin Hut Substation at the entrance to Aoraki-Mount Cook National Park.
Kea are a nationally endangered species, although it is unknown exactly how many remain.
DOC programme manager biodiversity Dean Nelson said repellent had been spread around the area in an effort to prevent further electrocutions and this appeared to have worked.
The repellent makes birds feel sick after it is ingested and that association deters them from returning to the same location.
Mr Nelson said he was unsure whether the repellent had been responsible for the lack of further electrocutions or whether the juvenile group of kea that had been around had moved on naturally.
The Auckland-based Kea Conservation Trust plans to trial the repellent at skifields in the region.
Kea Killed in 1080 Operation
21 August 2013
Five kea have been killed in Arthur's Pass in a 1080 operation attempting to protect the endangered and protected species.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) are currently investigating ways to protect the kea during 1080 operations, after the first field study yielded "disappointing results".
The study used a bird repellent in an aerial 1080 operation near Arthur's Pass earlier this month, killing five of 39 monitored birds.
The deaths come after seven kea were killed at Fox Glacier after eating 1080 poison in 2008, wiping out almost half a group of the endangered parrot being monitored by DOC.
A new baiting protocol was introduced in 2010 to reduce the risk to kea, which included using less palatable baits and avoiding open areas above the bush line.
However, DOC continues to maintain that pest control using 1080 benefits birds, including kea, by improving nesting success and the survival of adult females.
Further research was now being undertaken to minimise the loss of the "particularly inquisitive" bird, DOC Technical Advisor on Threats Michelle Crowell said.
"Losing five birds is naturally disappointing but overall the benefits to kea populations from pest control continue to outweigh the loss of individual birds to 1080," she said.
"We are obviously disappointed with the results so far, and once all the data has been fully analysed we will review our options, which include increasing the repellent concentration and investigating other repellents."
Analysis of the bait used has showed the repellent was less than the target concentration.
It had "showed promise" in previous trials, Crowell said, but was not enough to prevent the deaths.
The repellent was used in a DOC pest control operation over 10,619 hectares around Otira and at a nearby TBfree New Zealand operation at Taipo over 10,130 hectares from June 26 to August 1.
The Otira operation was aimed at controlling possums, rats and stoats to protect forest health and benefit native birds.
Kea Trust Promoting Work, Projects
11 July 2013
THE Kea Conservation Trust rolls into Wanaka later this month as part of its annual Winter Community Advocacy Tour.
Trust chairwoman Tamsin Orr¬Walker said the eight¬day tour would see the organisation ‘‘tripping around’’ South Island locations that also included Nelson, Kaikoura, Queenstown and Te Anau.
‘‘The tour provides us with an opportunity to meet local communi¬ties and project partners,’’ Ms Orr-Walker said.
The Wanaka meeting would take place on July 27. As well delivering information on kea conservation and monitoring results, the group would also unveil its new ‘‘Kids for Kea Conservation’’ educational DVD that included a poem and song written and performed by Cardrona Valley musician and con¬servationist Martin Curtis.
The draft strategic plan for kea conservation, a document being developed jointly by the KCT and the Department of Conservation (Doc), would also be discussed.
The KCT had worked closely with Doc over the past seven to eight years but there was now concern funds previously available for kea conservation work were drying up in the wake of major Doc restructuring announced earlier this year.
‘‘The changes hitting Doc will impact on us hugely,’’ Ms Orr¬Walker said.
‘‘We will certainly be looking to form more partnerships in the hope of securing funding to ensure the survival of the kea.’’
The draft strategic plan would identify threats to the bird and detail research and conservation projects planned for the next five to 10 years.
Doc conservancies in the South Island had provided funding for up to three years to help develop the strategy, Ms Orr¬Walker said.
Effort To Stop Kea Electrocutions
21 February 2013
The Timaru Herald
Kea repellent has been sprayed on a substation at Mt Cook in an attempt to stop kea being electrocuted.
In the past couple of weeks, five kea and a native falcon have been electrocuted at Alpine Energy's Unwin Hut Substation at the entrance to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. And it seemed likely at least a handful of other kea had died the same way, Department of Conservation community relations programme manager Shirley Slatter said yesterday.
Staff became aware of the deaths when a member of the public reported seeing a kea electrocuted earlier this month. A check of the substation found a further two dead kea and a dead falcon. Falcons are a threatened species and there are estimated to be 5000 kea in New Zealand.
Another kea had been found dead at the substation and a fifth was seen walking around dazed. Attempts to catch that bird failed, but what was thought to be the same bird was found dead the following day.
When asked, Alpine Energy staff said dead kea had been found in the substation in the past.
Alpine Energy has been contacted to see what can be done to protect the kea. In the meantime, repellent has been sprayed around the substation and anywhere else the birds might land nearby.
DOC ranger Corey Mosen said the repellent made kea feel sick when they ingested it. Hopefully they would remember that and not go near it again.
High country farmers have sprayed the mixture on sheep in an attempt to deter kea from attacking stock. Trials of the substance on forestry crews' vehicles appear to have discouraged kea from damaging them, Mr Mosen said.
The spray was applied around the transformer a week ago and no birds had been seen in the area since.
About 11 juvenile birds, probably about 15 months old, had been hanging around the transformer before the deaths.
Company corporate services manager Michael Boorer said Alpine Energy was looking at options for the transformer, including bird scarers, but DOC staff had been skeptical they would work.
"We have looked at some type of building over the substation but it gets down to the likely cost [and who would pay for the work]."
The substation is due for replacement in five or six years, and staff are considering whether that date should be brought forward.
Fingerless Thief Filches Tourist's Dough
2 February 2013
The Timaru Herald
A thief stole hundreds of dollars from Peter Leach's campervan, but left no fingerprints - because the thief has no fingers.
Mr Leach, a visitor from Glasgow, Scotland, stopped at Arthur's Pass on Wednesday to take in the views at a rest area along State Highway 73.
He left the windows down as he snapped photos of the scenery, including one of an unusual bird on the ground near his vehicle. Little did he know he'd become a target for the local criminal element.
"A Canadian couple walked by and said: 'We've just seen that bird take something out of your campervan'," Mr Leach laughed.
"It took all the money I had. I was left with $40 in my pocket."
The unsuspecting tourist had stashed his travel cash - about NZ$1300 - in a small cloth drawstring bag and left it on the dashboard, where the bird apparently found it while rummaging through other items.
The kea grabbed the bag and made a clean aerial getaway.
Fortunately, Mr Leach had old friends nearby, Paul and Lyn Fisher of Normanby, who lent him cash to tide him over.
Hoping to recover his money through travel insurance, Mr Leach sheepishly reported the incident to Timaru police.
"The man I dealt with was very serious for the first few questions," Mr Leach said.
"Then he said, 'Do you mind if I just stop to laugh?' "
Mr Leach said he had never heard of the mischievous kea before his visit.
Lesson learned. "The birds are now lining their nests with £50 notes."
Brainiac Parrots Threatened with Widespread Lead Poisoning
21 January 2013
By Cristy Gelling
New Zealand’s kea* are among the most devastatingly intelligent birds on the planet. For instance, animal cognition researchers say kea are as smart as crows at solving mechanical puzzles. So it comes as a shock to learn that much of what we know about the kea’s unusual behavior in the wild comes from studies of birds stultified by lead poisoning.
Lead is toxic at such low doses that public health authorities have yet to identify a “safe” level of exposure. Chronic exposure of children to relatively low doses of lead can affect their IQ, and some even argue that lead in gasoline can explain the major crime trends of the twentieth century.
So if tiny flecks of lead paint can affect our intelligence and behavior, what happens to a 2 lb parrot that regularly chews on lead-headed nails and lead roof flashing? Recent research suggests that the kea’s insatiable curiosity is causing widespread poisoning and endangering the birds wherever they live near human habitation.
The kea’s unusual culinary experiments are well known to visitors to New Zealand’s Southern Alps, who often find gangs of the parrots “eating” their rental cars. Kea use their beaks like a Swiss army knife to strip out windscreen wiper blades and window seals, and to snap off radio antennas; if any tourist is silly enough to leave a window open, they will happily dismantle the seats and dashboard, too. “I would describe them as like a hyperactive four year old,” says Brett Gartrell, director of Massey University’s Wildbase, a wildlife health centre. “If you’ve had a four year old running rampant in your living room, then you know how destructive that can be.”
But these destructive behaviors are crucial to the kea’s ability to find food in their harsh mountain habitats. Many juvenile kea do not survive their first winter, and to avoid starvation they must be willing and able to eat almost anything they find. It is their distinctive curiosity and intelligence that gives them the behavioral flexibility to exploit new sources of food as they become available.
This strategy served the kea well when European settlers started converting kea habitat into sheep ranches in the nineteenth century. Kea were able to exploit all the high calorie treats that humans tend to leave unattended, including an extremely rich source of fat – sheep. Kea quickly learned to ride a sheep’s back and pierce through the wool to chew on the underlying fat, leaving the unfortunate sheep vulnerable to blood poisoning.
“The attacks aren’t very common, but when they do occur, they’re quite horrific,” Gartrell says. In the 1880s, under pressure from sheep farmers, the government placed a bounty on the head of every kea, offering up to three shillings per beak. The incentive was enough that, by the 1970s, as many as 150,000 kea had been killed. Only a few thousand remain and that number seems to be declining from predation by stoats and other introduced mammals. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) now classifies the kea as nationally endangered.
Although the kea are no longer threatened by bounty hunters, their fearless eating habits still get them into trouble. For instance, one kea is known to have died from eating too much dark chocolate, and others have died from eating rubber camping mats or insulation. Over the years, a few kea also turned up with lead poisoning, but it wasn’t thought to be a population-wide threat. That changed in 2006, when Jenny McLelland, a veterinary student at Massey University, needed some extra chapters for her master’s thesis on lead toxicity in Australasian harriers. She followed up on the few odd cases of kea lead poisoning by taking blood samples from 12 wild kea, all juvenile males from Aoraki / Mt Cook village. Unexpectedly, all 12 had elevated blood lead levels.
“It was surprising to everybody,” says Clio Reid, a kea researcher and PhD student at Massey University. Reid, at that time a master’s student at Victoria University of Wellington, was part of the team that joined with McLelland, Gartrell and Kate McInnes, a DOC wildlife vet, to see if the problem was as bad as that initial sample suggested. They asked researchers working in many different kea habitats to collect blood samples from local kea. Every bird they sampled showed some evidence of lead exposure, though for populations remote from human activity the levels were not usually of concern.
But it was a different matter altogether for kea that live near humans. Most of them had blood lead levels suggestive of lead poisoning. We’re not talking levels consistent with subtle lead exposure here, we’re talking about lead poisoning – the level at which body functions start to fail. Many of these birds had blood lead levels that would earn any human a trip to the emergency room. Reid says one had a lead level so high it would certainly have killed a human.
Heavy metal tolerance varies between species, so it is possible that kea are relatively resistant to lead. Even if that turns out to be true, lead has insidious effects that can still cause death indirectly. Studies of other birds have shown that as lead exposure increases, the chance of death from other causes also increases; it makes animals less resistant to infectious disease and easier for predators to catch.
Whether directly or indirectly, lead does seem to affect kea mortality in the wild. The group reviewed 20 wild kea post-mortem records and found that 11 of the birds had tissue lead levels diagnostic of lead poisoning. That is an astonishingly high number. Although this figure is inflated by the fact that birds sent to vet clinics are much more likely to be from human inhabited areas—most birds that live far away from lead die without human witnesses—it is still solid evidence that wildlife managers should be concerned. In fact, during the research, they observed a disoriented and uncoordinated kea that they suspected might be suffering the effects of lead. It died in the clinic, diagnosed post-mortem with lead poisoning.
Not only are the researchers convinced that birds are dying from lead exposure, the birds that are most likely to have elevated blood lead levels are juveniles. Like humans, kea enjoy a relatively long childhood, giving them the time to learn the tricky business of extracting food in the mountains and navigating the highly structured kea social scene. They spend much of that childhood exploring their environment. “They do that by nibbling on everything, just like kids go around and stick everything in their mouths,” says Reid.
It’s largely these youngsters that chew on the pliable and sweet-tasting lead nails, yet they are also the most vulnerable to the effects of lead on their still developing nervous system. Even more alarmingly, the only two nestlings that have been sampled so far also had high blood lead levels. This means that either their parents were feeding them lead-contaminated food, or they were exposed to lead that accumulated in their mother when she was just a juvenile chewing on nails.
It is also possible that lead exposure has distorted our understanding of the kea’s unique behavior, since the most heavily studied kea populations are those that live near humans and their roofing materials. For example, many influential studies of wild kea ecology and behavior have been performed near Arthur’s Pass village, often at a refuse dump that was a popular kea foraging ground until it closed in the 1990s. The DOC ranger JR Jackson conducted the first major kea field studies in Arthur’s Pass in the 1950s and 1960s, frequently banding kea amongst the smell and flies of the village dump. He ascribed several odd kea behaviors to “social regulation” of birds at the bottom of the pecking order. In retrospect, these birds—underweight, anemic and “psychotic”—sound suspiciously like the casualties of chronic lead exposure.
DOC has responded to the new research with a program of lead replacement on land under their care. Although helped by community and conservation groups like the Kea Conservation Trust, this is a big task in a time of declining budgets. They are also trying to spread the word to private land owners, who vary in their degree of concern. “It’s still within living memory that people thought of kea as evil,” says McInnes.
Of course, lead is not the only challenge for the kea, nor even the most severe. Kea are killed by stoats and possums, run over by cars, inadvertently killed by animal control poisons and still occasionally shot by angry property owners or cruelly smuggled in the illegal pet trade. But such a pervasive presence of lead may be impairing the kea’s best coping strategy—their intelligence. McInnes warns: “With climate change affecting what food is going to be available and when things fruit, I think the kea needs all its wits about it to survive in the modern world.”
*The word “kea” is both singular and plural, just like the word “sheep.”
Reid, C, McInnes, K, McLelland, JM and BD Gartrell (2012) Anthropogenic lead (Pb) exposure in populations of a wild parrot (kea Nestor notabilis). New Zealand Journal of Ecology 36(1): 56-63
McLelland, JM, Reid, C, McInnes, K, Roe, WD and BD Gartrell (2010) Evidence of lead exposure in a free-ranging population of kea (Nestor notabilis). Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 46(2):532–540
Diamond, J and AB Bond (1999). Kea, bird of paradox: The evolution and behavior of a New Zealand parrot. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
Image credits: top: Flickr user Rosino, bottom: Cristy Gelling.
2012 News Articles
21 Mountains in 21 days
Thursday, 1st November 2012
Written by Alistair Hall
Two brothers have set themselves an audacious goal to climb 21 peaks over 2000m in just 21 days and hope to do their bit to save kea populations from declining further at the same time.
Nathan and Nigel Watson intend to climb all 21 peaks over 2000m in Nelson Lakes National Park. Nothing special about that, you might think except for the fact the brothers are planning on completing the mission in 21 days.
Nathan Watson, 27, has done the maths and says climbing all 21 peaks equates to around 16,000m of ascent and about the same in descent.
The brothers are hoping to raise close to $50,000 for the Kea Conservation Trust by finding a sponsor for each of the 21 mountains. They are asking sponsors to match dollar for metre the height of the mountain they choose to sponsor. A private sponsor from Wellington has already pledged $2038 to sponsor Emily Peaks. She chose these peaks because her middle name is Emily."
"Watson said he and his brother wanted to support the Kea Conservation Trust because they are concerned of the plight of the native parrot. The birds are listed as nationally endangered and the population in the Nelson Lakes National Park area has plummeted 80 per cent over the last 10 years.
"We know the kea population is going through a rough time and as far as we can tell there doesn't appear to be any major sponsorship of the kea like there is for the kiwi or kakapo," Nathan said. "I would hate to see in 20 years time a country without kea."
The expedition is a finalist in the Sport New Zealand Hillary Expediton Grants. The Watsons have set up a facebook page where potential sponsors can find out more about the expedition and how to contribute to the cause: www.facebook.com/21peaks21days"
For the full story and photos visit Wilderness Magazine online
For more stories visit Nathan and Nigels website
Decline of kea threatens alpine plants
The New Zealand Herald
By Paul Harper - Nov 1, 2012
The decline of the kea, the world's only alpine parrot species, could spell the end of 12 per cent of New Zealand's alpine plants, researchers say.
University of Canterbury lecturer, Dr Ximena Nelson, said those plants which rely on kea for seed dispersal could struggle to survive should the cheeky parrot's numbers diminish further.
"Kea are mischievous and lovable and also threatened, in part because we persecuted them for decades. From the late 1800s until 1971, the government placed a bounty on kea beaks. In the 1920s, the bounty was 10 shillings per beak, equating to $65 today," Dr Nelson said.
"After an estimated 150,000 kea were killed, the wholesale bloodshed ended in a full protection for the species in 1986. However, kea sometimes do still fall foul of a bullet and now it is likely than there are considerably less than 5000 birds left.
"All of this was because of this birds' powerful beak, which can occasionally cause a sheep's death. However, this beak is not only destructive, but also has the power to give life," Dr Nelson said.
University of Canterbury PhD student Laura Young looked at the foraging behaviour of kea and found they spend a large proportion of their time eating fruit.
New Zealand's mountains have an unusually high proportion of fruit-bearing plants, making fruit an ideal food for the world's only alpine parrot.
However, to maintain genetic viability the plants need to disperse their seeds and there are few remaining native species that may be able to do the job, Dr Nelson said.
Young's work found that unlike other parrots, the kea's beak does not crush the seeds in the fruit it eats, Dr Nelson said.
"Laura's work showed that kea selected more fruiting species, consumed more fruit and dispersed more seeds than all other birds seen in the mountains combined. When she looked carefully at the seeds contained in hundreds and hundreds of kea faeces, she found that in fact almost all seeds were intact.
"Furthermore, kea are the only species that make frequent long-distance flights within and between mountain ranges. Hence, much of the effective long-distance dispersal of the alpine flora may be currently performed by kea.
"The fact that kea are able to ingest fruit and rarely crush seeds despite their powerful curved 'parrot' beak is noteworthy. These large birds can damage motor vehicles, buildings and signs, yet they can manipulate delicate items with considerable dexterity, providing another good reason to cherish these clever birds."
As well as illegal hunting and pet trade activities, predation, competition for resources with introduced mammals and humans, lead poisoning and habitat degradation have led to the decline in the kea population, Dr Nelson said.
Brothers aim high for parrot
Nigel and Nathan Watson are set to embark on an adventure of a lifetime this summer. Their mission: To "summit" the 21 named peaks over 2000m in Nelson Lakes National Park in 21 days.
Departing in mid-February the "planned-to-the-metre" 220km expedition will see the siblings slinging themselves along razor-backed ridges, tackling dizzying descents and tricky terrain as they walk up to 10 hours a day - most of it above the bushline, exposed to the elements and days from civilisation.
The brothers' love of the bush was instilled from a young age by their parents and that spirit of adventure also shows in their occupations - Nigel, 25, is a Wellington Free Ambulance paramedic and Christchurch-based older brother Nathan, 27, is New Zealand Girl Guiding's national outdoor programme co-ordinator.
Nigel says several factors will make the journey "extremely challenging".
"The long duration, the remoteness, a significant number of days above the bushline, the demanding nature of the terrain, being at the mercy of New Zealand's harsh mountain weather, and the need to summit every day."
Nigel reckons "sharp and defined" Faerie Queene (2236m) and "incredibly steep" Mt Travers (2338m) are the two most daunting peaks, while Nathan is more worried about 2278m Mt Hopeless: "That's going to be a tricky one. The access is a nasty, scrambly creek and we'll be near the end of the trip facing fatigue."
They'll be equipped with satellite phones and locator beacons but isolation means the pair will need to be self-sufficient, even with the backing of a three-person support team who will meet them at resupply points when their nine-day food rations run out.
"With such a tight timeframe there is little room for delays. We will need to be very wary of our daily progress, constantly evaluating the situation and thinking ahead," Nigel says.
"Alterations to the route, particularly changes to planned campsites, will need to be considered and factored in as we move."
The brothers are already training to become "pack-fit" by building muscle and endurance for the slated February 15 start.
The expedition is not just about adventure, however, but raising awareness - and cash - for the endangered kea, which once thrived in the Nelson Lakes area.
Expedition sponsor Bivouac Outdoor has signed up and the mission has been shortlisted for the Sport NZ Hillary Expedition grant - now the pair hope businesses, individuals and organisations will "sponsor a mountain".
Kea repellent shows promise
30 Jul 2012
High country farmers may soon be spraying their precious sheep with kea repellent and motorists will do the same to their cars.
Conservation groups are looking at non-toxic repellents to put the endangered kea - notorious for attacking sheep - off the stock as a food source and being a pest to farmers.
It is estimated there are less than 5000 kea - the world's only alpine parrot - left in the wild.
Kea Conservation Trust chairwoman Tamsin Orr-Walker says initial results are looking promising following the first field trial on a farm near Queenstown last month.
A sprayed flock had been out for 40 days and none were killed, although they showed signs of kea landing on them, she told NZ Newswire.
But it appeared the kea had turned their attention to a nearby, untreated flock and there could have been up to 40 deaths there, she said
The trial is part of a bigger trial involving a number of parties looking at using bird repellent on 1080 pellets.
The chemicals anthraquinone and d-pulegone make the birds feel queasy. Kea can see also see anthraquinone in the UV spectrum, Ms Orr-Walker says.
"They actually smell quite nice to us."
Kea will land on merinos - which go into a state of torpor when snow-bound - and peck around the kidney area, which is high in fat.
It is hoped the birds will be put off eating the sheep because they feel queasy as soon as they start pecking at the wool.
The researchers are also looking at the possibility the spray could be applied to tents and cars, as kea are also notorious for attacking and tearing bits off parked cars in mountain passes.
Surface repellent trials will start next month.
School to help kea conservation
27 July 2012
A Christchurch School and student will take action to help conserve kea to make amends for actions that led to the death of a bird at Porter Heights Ski Area last week.
Both the Department of Conservation and the school are keen to turn this unfortunate incident into a positive learning experience for all the students, said DOC Arthur's Pass Field Centre Supervisor Chris Stewart.
"The student and school have expressed their deep regret for the death of the kea and have offered to contribute to conservation projects and kea recovery."
Story continues below photo
At a meeting with Department of Conservation staff in Christchurch today, the boy handed over the dead bird and apologised for his actions.
Chisnallwood Intermediate School has pledged to initiate a whole-of-school project on kea as part of a conservation education programme, as well as investigate assembling the wooden parts of stoat traps as part of their science and technology classes.
Predators such as stoats and possums pose a key threat to kea, which nest in holes in the ground. The stoat traps will assist with predator control work being undertaken by DOC at Arthur's Pass.
The student will give a presentation on kea to the school, as well as assisting local DOC staff with a project during Conservation Week in September.
Stewart said that the Department did not intend to take the matter any further.
"We are comfortable that everyone involved has learnt a valuable lesson."
"Kea are New Zealand's only alpine parrot and they are endangered. They need all of our help to give them the best chance of survival."
"Treat them with respect and don't feed them."
Boy Whose Stone Killed Kea Contrite
A boy who killed a kea while on a school ski trip will do conservation work to make amends.
Police and the Department of Conservation (DOC) were notified after a kea died after being hit by a stone thrown by the boy at the Porter Heights Ski Area last Friday afternoon.
The 12-year-old was part of a group from Chisnallwood Intermediate School.
Principal Richard Paton said the incident was "very regrettable" as the school prided itself on being conservation-minded.
"I don't think there was anything specifically malicious about it," he said.
"He threw the stone at the kea; it hit the kea and unfortunately the kea died."
Paton planned to meet the boy's caregivers and arrange for him to do a form of community work in the conservation line "so that in his mind he can also make amends for something that he is very regretful of".
On DOC advice, the kea was taken to Christchurch and would be handed over to the department today.
"It's actually in the fridge with the staff lunches at the moment. It had to be put somewhere," Paton said.
Kea are an endangered native parrot, with the population estimated at fewer than 5000.
Under the Wildlife Act, killing kea is a criminal offence, liable to a fine of up to $100,000 or six months' jail.
DOC field centre supervisor Chris Stewart said it was the first incident of this kind he had heard of.
Signs at skifields stated that kea were endangered.
Stewart said it would not necessarily take a strong throw for a stone to kill a kea.
"They are so cheeky they will come quite close to people." It was unlikely any action would be taken against the child or school.
Stewart said DOC hoped to carry out a study of the dead bird, possibly testing the corpse for lead poisoning, which they had concerns about in the kea population.
A DOC education worker was arranging to take a special lesson at the school.
Porters general manager Uli Dinsenbacher said the skifield was saddened by the kea's death and intended to boost its information to schools and children about the protected native.
"Over the years we have tried everything possible to keep kea safe on the ski area. We love kea - they are our pre-season companions as we set up the ski area, we value them as unique creatures, recognising them as real characters and individual birds. We know just how precious they are to our mountain environment.
"To have a bird killed by such a reckless action made us very sad and upset. It is a serious matter and we are determined to ensure it will never happen again."
Boy 12, May be charged over killing kea
Jul 23, 2012
A 12-year-old schoolboy may face criminal charges after killing a kea while on a school ski trip.
The Christchurch pupil horrified classmates and teachers when he picked up a rock and hurled it at the endangered mountain parrot, killing it instantly.
Now, he faces a grilling from disgusted Department of Conservation (DOC) officials, and the possibility he may face charges.
The principal of Chisnallwood Intermediate School, in the badly earthquake-damaged suburb of Aranui, today described his pupil's actions as "mindless".
He is meeting parents of the Year 7 boy tomorrow as well as DOC workers who will establish how the boy came to his decision, and whether to press for charges.
The youngster was with around 200 schoolmates on an annual outing to popular Canterbury skifield Porter Heights last Friday when the attack happened.
Kea are protected by law, and under the Wildlife Act killing one is a criminal offence that carries a maximum fine of $100,000 or six months in prison. It is believed there are fewer than 5000 kea left in the Southern Alps - the only place in the world where they are found.
Porter Heights Ski Area manager Uli Dinsenbacher said the death had "upset" his staff, who adored the cheeky kea population that inhabits the area.
None of his staff saw the incident, and while he said the children were well-behaved on the slopes, he was disgusted by it.
"It's something we feel very strongly about," Mr Dinsenbacher said.
"But we can't be held responsible for kids outside lesson times who are roaming around getting into trouble."
DOC field centre supervisor Chris Stewart said the "horrible" death was also unusual, having never come across anything similar before.
The corpse was taken away by school staff and would be delivered to DOC's Christchurch office tomorrow where officers will speak with the school and the boy to discover what happened.
Mr Stewart said, "Once we gather all the information, we'll see the level of culpability he has, find out what his reasons were, and take it from there."
DOC has jurisdiction and power to investigate and prosecute any wildlife crime themselves, without referring the case to police.
Forest and Bird conservation advocate Nicola Toki said while the incident was "sad and disappointing" it highlighted a wider issue over a lack of education.
"If we're in a position where kids are throwing stones at a beautiful, endangered, intelligent, and cheeky species, then there's a gap in knowledge about our incredible wildlife."
Tamsin Orr-Walker, of Kea Conservation Trust, said kea are not only endangered but particularly trusting animals.
"I hope it wasn't intentional but just a silly mistake," she said.
"We have loads of kids contact the trust who are are really keen to protect the kea and they will be horrified to hear of this."
Chisnallwood Intermediate, meanwhile, was apologetic over the death.
Richard Paton, school principal, said while the boy simply picked up a rock and threw it at the highly-intelligent bird, he didn't think there was any malice in the event.
"I think he was as shocked as anybody that it actually hit the kea, and that it died," Mr Paton said.
"The boy involved is very remorseful, but there will be some consequences for his actions.
"The other students on the trip were as upset as anybody and they also feel let down by the mindless actions of one person.
"It's unfortunate that the actions of one person can reflect badly on the school."
Last August, five young kea were found shot dead at Klondyke Corner, near Arthur's Pass.
They were found piled up on a picnic table, but despite a DOC investigation, the killers were never found.
How to solve a problem like the kea
The centuries old grudge match between South Island sheep farmers and bloodthirsty mountain parrots could soon be over.
Researchers say early trials of a nauseating spray-on bird repellent, applied to high-country sheep to dissuade kea from tearing holes in their guts, have been highly promising, and they are seeking partners for further research.
Tamsin Orr-Walker, co-founder of the Kea Conservation Trust, said from the late 1800s high-country sheep farmers waged war with kea, because the inquisitive parrots found that by pecking holes near a sheep's kidneys they could tuck into the tasty fat beneath.
Some 150,000 kea were killed after a bounty was placed on them in the 19th century. Kea have been a protected species only since 1986, and there are only 1000-5000 alive.
Orr-Walker said some farmers still reported losing up to 400 sheep a year to kea-strike.
Some sheep died of injuries, but far more died of blood poisoning from the kea's dirty talons. Merino sheep are especially vulnerable as they stand still when attacked.
The kea-repellent trials are being conducted by the trust with the Department of Conservation (DOC), Auckland's Unitec and an Otago farmer, and, if successful, could help reduce the perception of the birds as pests.
Orr-Walker said there were rumours of people "taking matters into their own hands and doing poisoning exercises on their properties", but this was impossible to prove.
She said the trials were "a major step forward in solving what has historically been a controversial and difficult conservation issue".
In late May, 203 sheep out of a flock of 337 were sprayed with anthraquinone - a chemical that leaves birds feeling queasy - mixed with lanolin to make it stick.
After 34 days in the open, a few of the treated sheep had mild injuries from kea, "but they were pretty much left alone", said Orr-Walker. However, an unsprayed flock nearby was badly hit, and some died.
"We can't yet say that the kea tried the flock up the hill, found something wrong with it, then went down to the one below," said Orr-Walker, "but potentially [that's what happened]."
She said the researchers wanted to continue trials over winter, and hoped more farmers might help. Future tests were planned using a different chemical, d-pulegone and a soya-based wax.
Orr-Walker said the trust had approached Federated Farmers about the research but had not received a response. She also planned to invite merino-garment manufacturer Icebreaker to get involved. "We've got dolphin-friendly tuna. How about kea-friendly merino?
Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills told the Sunday Star-Times he'd not heard of the kea-repellent research, but "if it's a genuine study that's going to come up with some genuine results, we're always happy to get involved where it's going to be beneficial".
Jonathan Wallis, co-owner of Minaret Station in Wanaka, said kea strike was far less of a problem to farmers than in the past because there were fewer pure-breed merino and fewer sheep being left on remote grazing country. "But there are still farms that have significant issues with kea."
He said since the 1970s farmers had become "acutely aware of the national interest in indigenous wildlife", and he was not aware of any "vigilante" approach to kea by farmers.
Orr-Walker said humans weren't the only threat. Some kea got lead poisoning from eating the flashing off buildings, chicks got eaten by stoats and possums, and others died after eating the 1080 designed to kill those very predators (though trials of bird repellent in the pellets have been promising).
She said the kea's intelligence was "astounding".
"I think we're very lucky to have them, even though they can be very annoying."
Boys save one-legged Kea, Jake
Jake the one-legged kea is settling into his new home at Natureland Zoo and he seems to be getting around just fine.
The two-year-old kea was rescued by cousins Jake and Christian Jenner when they found him with a broken leg near Lake Rotoiti.
Jake, 10, said he and Christian, 13, saw the injured kea hopping along a road while they were pig hunting last October.
"We picked him up, put him in a sack and took him home and rang up Natureland," he said.
Natureland Zoo operations manager Gail Sutton said the kea's right leg had a compound fracture as a result of being caught in a trap.
"The bone was exposed and his foot was later surgically removed," she said.
Ms Sutton said the kea would have died in the wild without the boys' help.
"The infection in its leg would have killed it eventually. It's a toss-up whether it would have died of infection or starvation," she said. "These guys saved its life, which is pretty special because kea are becoming endangered."
Ms Sutton said Jake the kea would remain in captivity with his new kea mates due to potential feeding problems in the wild. "Natureland Zoo is part of the zoo-based breeding programme for kea," she said.
Cousins Jake and Christian said it was "cool" to see Jake hopping after he was released into his new enclosure.
Kea declining at Nelson Lakes?
8 February 2011
The population of kea in the Nelson Lakes National Park has shown a steep decine with realistic fears the bird is being decimated by predators such as possum, stoat and rats. Lead poisoning is also contributing to the birds vulunerability, Kea Conservation Trust chairwoman Tamsin Orr-Walker said. In a thorough search over 14,000 hectares and encompassing 50 survey points in January, only two fledglings were found from three potential breeding pairs. This compares with 10 fledglings a year from 11 breeding pairs found during a six year study conducted in the 1990's; the area surveyed then was only half the size of the most recent study.
" There is definitely a lot of concern that kea may be on the way out in this area which would be an absolute tragedy" Ms Orr-Walker said.
Nail removal helps kea survive
24 June 2011
Keas in the Mackenzie Basin will have to worry less about lead poisoning, thanks to an unlikely Department of Conservation venture.
The department has been performing maintenance work on its huts, and with the help of contractor Colin McArthur Building, it has removed all the lead-head nails from three of the uppermost huts within Dobson Valley, Ruataniwha Conservation Park, to help the kea survive.
Twizel DOC ranger Dean Nelson said there was strong evidence that keas liked to gnaw on the lead nails.
"We have seen them chew on these nails, and there have been toxicology reports of keas where their blood shows a surprisingly high concentration of lead," he said. "We were performing maintenance work on the three high-country huts anyway, so we felt this would be something we could do at the same time."
Mr Nelson said DOC did not have up-to-date kea numbers in the region.
"I understand the Kea Conservation Trust is in the midst of a nationwide survey, but we have received reports from local farmers that there haven't been as many around as there have been in the past," he said.
DOC shocked five kea shot dead
By Paul Harper
Updated 8:23 AM Wednesday Aug 17, 2011
Department of Conservation is investigating the shooting deaths of five kea dumped near Arthur's Pass.
Five kea dumped near Arthur's Pass had been shot, the Department of Conservation says.
An initial pathology report from Massey University said evidence pointed to the use of an air-rifle and a shotgun to kill the five kea.
The birds were found piled up on a picnic table at Klondyke Corner in Arthur's Pass on Monday morning last week.
DOC field centre supervisor, Chris Stewart, was appalled by the incident and have referred the matter to the police.
"Kea are endangered and their wild population could be as low as 1000 birds," Mr Stewart said.
"The results also showed that all five animals were young and healthy and could have gone on to contribute to future generations of the species."
The full report will not be available until later this week but the initial results will assist the police and DOC with their ongoing investigation.
Under the Wildlife Act, it is a criminal offence to kill kea. Offenders could face a $100,000 fine or six months in prison.
The incident occurred in the same week that a dead kea was dumped on the driveway of a DOC staff member on the West Coast. Early indications are that the bird was also shot and this case has been referred to the police.
Anyone who was in the area around Klondyke Corner over the weekend of August 6 and 7 are asked to ring the police, the 0800 DOCHOTline (0800 36 24 68) or the Arthur's Pass Field Centre.
DOC takes steps to prevent kea losses
Date: 09 September 2011
DOC says it will be looking at ways to further protect kea after the discovery of seven dead birds following a recent 1080 pest control operation on the West Coast.
Tests are currently being carried out on the birds to confirm initial indications that they have died from eating poison baits.
DOC's Franz Josef Waiau Area Manager, Wayne Costello said, "It is very disappointing to lose any kea. We know they are inquisitive birds but believed that a new baiting protocol would be successful in keeping kea safe. DOC will now be assessing the results and taking them into account for future operations."
The seven dead birds were among a total of thirty eight kea that were fitted with radio transmitters as part of a four year programme to assess the risks and benefits of 1080 operations on kea populations. The local DOC team is checking but so far no other bird species have been found dead.
The aerial 1080 possum control operation involved three years of planning and was jointly run by the Animal Health Board and DOC. The operation covered 30,000 ha which included the South Ökärito kiwi sanctuary, North Ökärito forest, and a large forested buffer zone around Franz Josef township itself. The operation is intended to provide New Zealand's rarest kiwi - rowi - protection from rats, stoats and possums as well as providing protection to local farms from the threat of bovine tuberculosis.
"Tracking work shows up to 60 percent of kea nests are attacked by predators. This research programme also involves monitoring nests through the current breeding season to assess whether safer conditions for kea chicks outweigh the risks to individual birds," said Mr. Costello.
Wayne Costello says DOC will be looking to see if there are any specific circumstances in this operation which may have led to the bird deaths. It seems likely that the more open nature of the North Ökärito forest is a factor.
He said the work was part of on-going research into ways of minimising the impact of 1080 operations on kea. That is why we are looking into the use of baits that are less palatable to them and doing further work on bird repellents.
Kea ‘gangs’ breaking into DOC predator control traps
Otago Daily Times
By Lucy Ibbotson - 20 Sep 2011
“Department of Conservation staff are being outsmarted by "gangs" of mischievous juvenile keas intent on breaking into predator control traps in the West Matukituki Valley, despite heightened security systems aimed at keeping them out. Concerns were raised last summer about gangs of young keas interfering with the West Matukituki Valley predator control traps. More than 75% of traps had been sprung.
Traps near the Aspiring Hut were sprung by the boxes being rocked and rotated and in some cases, rolled away. The problem was first thought to be caused by human interference, but hut wardens then observed keas interfering with the traps.
The trap boxes were subsequently secured to the ground, which initially alleviated the problem.
However, footage was recorded last week by Doc staff showing determined keas working hard to crack the new security measures to steal the eggs inside, set up as predator bait.
Last year, the Fiordland kea population was reported to be demonstrating regular tool-using behaviour, after being observed getting long sticks and poking them through the 50mm square entrance holes of stoat boxes, to spring the traps inside.”
To see the footage of kea figuring out the newly secured traps follow this link to You Tube:
George – the curious kea
Keith Lynch - 12 Oct 2011
A kea will be returned to the wild today after being nursed back to health from a bout of blood poisoning. George, a four-year-old kea, was found vomiting early last month by Conservation Department ranger Paddy Moran near Arthur's Pass.
Moran contacted Christchurch vet Pauline Howard, who took care of the bird at the Hornby Veterinary Centre.
Tests showed possible kidney damage, and blood sent to Massey University showed George's lead levels were off the chart.
The bird was kept in the veterinary centre during the day. At night he stayed in Howard's bathroom, which was now "a little worse for wear".
"Everyone at the centre became very capable kea holders, and so did Peter, my husband, and Andrew, my 18-year-old son," she said.
"Because Peter was bitten, he had the privilege of naming the kea George."
Lead paint, nails, roof lashings or discarded batteries were possible sources of the poisoning.
"Young male birds are at greatest risk of lead poisoning as they congregate in areas were humans live and play in the high country – places where lead is most likely to be available," Howard said.
Volunteers helping cheeky keas go lead-free
By Marjorie Cook - Otago Daily Times - December 3, 2011
Cardrona singer-songwriter Martin Curtis had been entertaining school children with kea stories for years before he learned about the Kea Conservation Trust and its drive to save the endangered bird.
Then, earlier this year, a trust member approached Mr Curtis following a recital of his Tale of Two Keas.
A film of his performance is now destined for the trust's website and Mr Curtis is also supporting the trust's lead-nail replacement programme this week by carrying out roof maintenance at the New Zealand Alpine Club's 79-year-old Cascade hut in the West Matukituki Valley.
Scientists say the birds eat the soft lead nails, which is a problem, as lead is toxic to the birds.
Recent tests on the Mt Aspiring National Park population by an Otago University student returned normal blood tests, but the trust says it is important to act rather than wait for birds to die.
Keas were hunted until protective laws were passed in the 1980s. Just 5000 are said to exist in the world - all in the South Island - and the trust believes numbers are reducing.
"I just think they are wonderful birds. They've supposedly been proved by scientists to be the most intelligent bird in the world. You can see it in their faces, thinking 'What can I do now'," Mr Curtis said.
His poem tells of the experience of a climber who banged a broom on a hut ceiling to quieten two keas on the roof. The birds then dangled upside down and peered through the window to check on the commotion inside.
While Mr Curtis believes few keas now visit the Cascade hut, the Department of Conservation has noticed a new gang of trouble-making juveniles at the nearby Aspiring hut, where they enjoy chewing on bicycle tyres or setting off stoat traps.
The inquisitive native parrots also try to steal from tourists at Rob Roy Glacier.
Doc biodiversity ranger Flo Gaud said while Mt Aspiring keas seemed unaffected by lead, birds at Mt Cook and Arthurs Pass had been poisoned. The reasons why were not entirely clear but Doc and the Kea Conservation Trust had decided to work together to replace old nails in all South Island tramping huts.
Wanaka Placemakers donated the new nails being used by Mr Curtis and his fellow roofer, Kenny Lang.
"In all the new huts, there are no more lead nails whatsoever... what Martin is doing is amazing. I hope if any other people are keen to do something similar, they contact the Kea Conservation Trust," Ms Gaud said.
People could also help by not feeding keas, taking all rubbish away so keas do not eat it and be alert to kea-thieving.
"Chocolate is especially very toxic for the kea and people may not realise this... Any kind of human food shouldn't be given to the birds. Because they are so curious and inquisitive you have to be very careful that they don't take something off you."