Kea are now restricted to the South Island of New Zealand and are scarce across their 3.5 million hectare range. They inhabit lowland areas of podocarp forest on the West Coast of the South Island, through to alpine beech forests, alpine meadows and mountain scree slopes along the length of the Southern Alps from Waitutu in the southern reaches of Fiordland to Kahurangi in the far north west. A significant decline in kea distribution from the 1980’s has been identified in the North West part of the South Island (Robertson et al., 2007). A separate population inhabits the Kaikoura Mountains on the east coast of the South Island.
Much of their range lies within conservation estate. Consequently, habitat fragmentation and loss are not a major threat as with many of our other native species. Strongholds persist in areas of extensive predator management, such as around the Arthur’s Pass area and South Westland, but a rapid decline in the unmanaged Nelson Lakes National Park since 1998 indicates that they are under serious threat in areas where predators are not managed.
Territories are extensive and can cover up to 4kms² (Jackson, 1969; Elliott & Kemp, 1999). Breeding pairs may have one or more nest cavities positioned on a spur and their territory will extend from the forest floor up to the alpine area above tree line (Kemp pers. comm., 2009). There has never been evidence of more than one breeding pair occupying a spur (ibid).