NEW ZEALAND PARROTS Strigopidae
- 3 species in New Zealand
- DR personal total: 1 species (33%), 0 photos
The New Zealand parrots are a family of three unique parrots in New Zealand: Kea (left, a nice shot by John Sullivan), Kaka Nestor meridionalis, and the remarkable Kakapo Strigops habroptilus. [An additional species, Nestor productus on Norfolk I., off New Zealand, went extinct about 1851.]
There are other parrots on New Zealand, such as Red-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae or Yellow-fronted Parakeet C. auriceps, but these are in the family Psittacidae and their ancestors were much more recent immigrants to the islands.
three New Zealand Parrots of this family — Kea, Kaka, Kakapo — have a
much more ancient origin. In a study of an intron in the spindlin
genes, de Kloet & de Kloet (2005) found that this clade was the
sister group of all other living parrots. Homberger (2003), working
with morphological features, also considered the Strigopidae a separate
family. There is still debate about how many families should be formed
among the psittacines, but I follow Christidis & Boles (2008), and
now IOC & Clements, in considering the Strigopidae a separate
Strigopidae are unique in a number of ways. For example, all other
parrots mate for life but this New Zealand group does not. The Kea is
polygamous and observes a strict hierarchy with top males having up to
4 mates; the Kakapo forms no bonds at all.
The two members of the genus Nestor
replace each other by altitude. Kaka live in low-lying forests, while
Kea dwells in wooded valleys and moorland at higher elevation. In fact,
Kea (right, another John Sullivan photo) is particularly interesting
because it has adapted to life near or above snowline, high in the
mountains, and undertakes altitudinal migrations between summer and
winter. It has an elongated upper mandible which is used to dig for
roots. It is also known to cling to sheep and rip into them, drinking
their blood. It also scavenges on dead sheep.
lowland Kaka utilizes two odd food sources: sap and honeydew. They are
known to strip bark from a branch or trunk to expose the cambium layer,
and then lick the sap that exudes. They also may gouge tiny holes.
Honeydew is taken from a scale insect in Nothofagus forests in summer and fall (Collar 1997).
The totally unique Kakapo is
huge, flightless parrot. The 3 kg (=6.6 pound) males are the world's
heaviest psittacine. As it is flightless, evolved in a hand without
terrestrial predators, it succumbed rapidly to introduced non-native
stouts, cats, and dogs. It is now one of the world's rarest birds, and
all have been removed to remote offshore islets off the New Zealand
mainland in hopes of saving it from extinction. The males call for
mates by "booming" at night from traditional bowls they create high on
ridge in Nothofagus forests [incredible footage appears in David Attenborough's "Life of Birds"
series]. These areas are totally protected and open only to
researchers; this is a bird which is currently virtually impossible to
Photos: John Sullivan photographed the Kea Nestor notabilis on South Island, New Zealand, in August 2004. Photo © John Sullivan, used with permission; all rights reserved.
Bibliographic note: this small family does not have a "family" book, but is covered among the Psittacidae in Collar (1997).
Christidis, L, and W.E. Boles. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian Birds. CSIRO Publ, Sydney.
Collar, N.J. 1997. Family Psittacidae (Parrots), pp. 280-477 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, & J. Sargatal, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 4. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Kloet, R.S., and S.R. de Kloet. 2005. The evolution of the spindlin
gene in birds: Sequence analysis of an intron of the spindlin W and Z
gene reveals four major divisions of the Psittaciformes. Molec. Phylog.
Evol. 36: 706-721.
Homberger, D.G. 2003. The
comparative biomechanics of a prey-predator relationship: The adaptive
morphologies of the feeding apparatus of Australian Black-Cockatoos and
their foods as a basis for the reconstruction of the evolutionary
history of the Psittaciformes, pp. 203-228 in Vertebrate Biomechanics and Evolution (V.L. Bels, J.-P. Gasc, & A. Casinos, eds.). BIOS Scientific Publishers, Oxford.