Whats in a name?
The kea’s species name, Nestor, is from Greek mythology. Nestor was said to be a wise old counselor to the Greeks at Troy. Notabilis (latin), means, ‘that worthy of note’. Maori gave the name kea, describing the sound of its call (‘kee-aa!’). Kea were considered guardians of the mountains for the Waitaha Maori during their search for Pounamu (greenstone). A flock of kea is known either as a ‘circus of kea’ or a ‘curiousity of kea’! ‘Kea’ is both singular and plural.
Endangered mountain parrot
Kea are the only mountain parrot species in the world and now number fewer than 5,000 individuals in the wild (Anderson, 1986). Numbers of Kea were substantially reduced with the introduction of a government bounty in the late 1870′s which resulted in a conservative estimate of over 150,000 birds being culled as late as the 1970’s (Temple, 1978).
Kea are now listed as Nationally Endangered (Robertson et al, 2012) and vulnerable, population trend decreasing by the IUCN Red List (Birdlife International, 2013).
Colour : Both male and female kea are predominately olive green and black with blue primarys allowing for camoflague in the wild. Viewed from beneath, however, the underwings of the keas are a striking orange-red with black and yellow striped primary feathers. Rare sitings of yellow or albino kea have also been recorded.
Size: Kea are the largest flighted terrestrial bird in New Zealand. Males are up to 20% larger than females and weigh over 1 kg. They are the second largest parrot in New Zealand – the kakapo is the largest at 2 kgs. The kea is a strong flier with a wing span of over 1 metre. The trademark hooked black beak is also longer in the male kea and can reach up to 5 ½ cms in length.
Lifespan of the Kea
The oldest known kea in captivity reached the grand old age of 50 years. Kea in the wild have been known to reach at least 30 years. Juvenile kea can be differentiated from adults through a distinctive yellow coloration around their eyes, mandible and nostrils (cere) which gradually fades to black/brown by 3-4 years of age.