Kea are opportunistic omnivores and consume a wide variety of foods in the wild. Behavioural, faecal and gut studies have shown that kea eat over 200+ different varieties of natural foods including a wide range of animal and vegetable matter. Foods include grasshoppers, beetles (adults and larvae), ant larvae, weta and cicada nymphs, other invertebrates and the roots, bulbs, leaves, flowers, shoots, seeds, nectar and fruit of over 200 native plant species (Brejaart, 1988; Clarke, 1970).
Kea have also been recorded eating other bird and mammal species including: Huttons Shearwater (chicks and eggs), racing pigeon, sheep meat and bone marrow, stoat and possum carcasses (Brejaart, 1988).
They have also been known to consume fat from the carcasses of hunted introduced mammal species such as Tahr, deer and Chamois (Maloney, pers. comm.), and on occasion are also known to attack the fatty area around the kidneys of live sheep left high in the alpine areas (i.e. above 600m) during winter when resources are low (NHNZ, 2006).
Kea are one of the few species which have managed to take advantage of humans moving in to their habitat. They use their beak, cognitive abilities and tenacity to access resources and investigate any potential uses of new objects. Rubbish dumps/bins, seasonal deer culls, farms and ski fields continue to provide useful sources of food (and toxins in some cases) for kea in times of hardship.
Historical burn-off of high country forests by farmers, and continued legal annual burn-off of these areas between June and October (ECAN, 2005) have significantly decreased the availability of natural food sources throughout the natural range of kea. How this impacts the survival of the species is unknown. However, research into the major cause of death in kea has historically been attributed to lack of food resources (Jackson, 1969).
- Research – Ria Brejaart, laura Young