Keas are among the most unusual parrot birds: they also live in ice and snow, look quite inconspicuous and fascinate us with their curiosity and joy in playing.
What do keas look like?
Keas belong to the real parrots and there to the subfamily of the Nestor parrots. Seen from afar, you could almost mistake them for crows. Their plumage is inconspicuous, olive green with black-edged feathers. Only the lower wings and the back are colored orange to reddish.
The beak is grey, narrow and hooked, the tail is relatively short, the feet are brown. Keas measure about 46 to 50 centimeters from head to tail – so they are about the size of a chicken. Males and females of the kea look almost the same, only very experienced observers even notice a difference: The males have a slightly longer and more curved beak than the females
Where do keas live?
Keas are only at home in New Zealand, where they are only found on the South Island. They are mountain birds and are found almost exclusively in the New Zealand Alps. In winter, when food is scarce, they sometimes move to the lowlands.
Keas mainly live at the edge of the tree line between 600 and 2400 meters above sea level. In this alpine region, the animals must be able to endure snow, cold and wind. The advantage is that they have little competition from other birds in this very barren habitat.
Parrots are found on every continent except Europe. There are more than 200 different species in the parrot family. The kaka is most closely related to the kea. He also lives in New Zealand but tends to stay in flatter regions with a milder climate.
How old do keas get?
It is not known how old keas can get. In general, however, all parrots have a very long life expectancy. The larger parrot species sometimes live for several decades.
How do keas live?
Keas are very unusual birds: they are so playful and inquisitive, as is otherwise only known from monkeys, for example. When they are not busy foraging or raising their young, they examine everything around them. They don’t even stop at people’s objects. They examine cars, rubber seals on doors and windows, and everything that is left behind with their sharp beaks.
No wonder that a lot is usually damaged and the paintwork of cars or doors gets severe scratches. They also like to play with each other, romp around, throw themselves on their backs and almost do somersaults. Keas are considered very intelligent. They can use tools and open garbage cans – only to steal anything edible, of course.
They can also learn from their peers and learn from them how life works. Or they work with them to achieve something specific. Researchers have found that from the age of two, keas begin to observe and learn from older conspecifics foraging. Keas are also very social birds. They usually live in groups. Males are also polygamous, meaning they mate with multiple females.
Friends and foes of the keas
The biggest enemy of the keas is humans: Because many farmers believe that keas kill sheep, they were mainly hunted in the past. Anyone who shot down an animal was even rewarded for it.
How do keas reproduce?
Keas are capable of breeding all year round, but they breed primarily in the spring. In New Zealand, this is the time when it is autumn for us. If the food supply is very scarce, the breeding season can also be postponed or even be canceled altogether. Sometimes they don’t breed at all for up to four years.
Keas build their nests between rocks or in hollow tree stumps. It is padded with plant material. A female lays two to four eggs, which she incubates alone. When the young have hatched after three to four weeks, the male helps with feeding. The young keas stay in the nest for about two weeks.
How do keas communicate?
The call of the kea is a long drawn out “kiiiaah” – hence the name of the bird: kea.
What do keas eat?
Keas have a very varied diet, they use everything that their meager habitat offers them: In addition to fruits, seeds, buds, and roots, these are also insects, sometimes even carrion. New Zealand farmers report keas attacking sheep and then eating the fat. These reports are often exaggerated: keas probably only go to animals that have perished in the impassable mountains. These are an important source of protein for them.
Attitude of keas
Keas are often kept in zoos, but sometimes also by private pet owners at home. Because they are so curious, they also become very tame.