The world largest parrot is a rear bird, and it isn’t the Hyacinth Macaws as believed by most pet bird owners. Learn more about this amazing large parrot.
The kakapo is the world’s largest parrot. The kakapo (Strigos habroptilus), also known as the owl parrot, is a large, flightless parrot native to New Zealand.
It belongs to the Strigopoidea family of parrots.
Although it is not quite as long as most macaw species which is between 23 – 25 inches long, it is the world’s heaviest parrot.
They are by far the most massive parrot species, weighing between 2 – 9 pounds on average.
Kakapos are unable to fly due to their size and they spend their entire lives on the ground.
Their bodies are covered in mottled yellow-ish green feathers that help them blend in with the forest floor vegetation.
Kakapos get their name from the Maori language “night parrot,” which they earned because they are nocturnal.
Kakapos are the only parents with a polygynous breeding system, in which one male mates with several females but females only mate with one male.
Their lifespan is impressively long, with some specimens reported to have lived for up to 100 years old.
They feed on seeds, fruits, tree sap, and native plants.
The native Kakapo population nearly went into extinction after the British colonized New Zealand and introduced predators such as stoats, ferrets, and weasels to the islands.
Today, only about 200 Kakapos live on the predator-free Anchor Island, Little Barrier/Hauturu Island, and Codfish/Whenua Hou Island, with each specimen being named and tagged.
The Kakapo is listed as a Critically Endangered species by the IUCN due to its population decline.
The kakapo is a very adaptable bird that can dwell in a variety of habitats.
This includes scrublands, coastal areas, mountainous terrain, tussock lands, and even pasturelands.
Since kakapo inhabited Fiordland, in the south-western corner of South Island, some regions where wineberry and five fingers grew became known as ‘kakapo gardens.’
However, despite its ability to adapt to a range of environments, it is primarily restricted to the temperate forests of its home islands.
What’s unusual about kakapo?
The kakapo is a huge green parrot with an owl-like face and a waddling gait. They can’t fly, but they are excellent climbers.
Kakapos are nocturnal, flightless, and are the world’s only lek-breeding parrot species. Kakapos cannot fly.
They’re also the biggest parrot species, weighing 1.4 kg for females and 2.2 kg for males.
Also, before its reproductive season, it can gain up to 1 kg of fat.
Are there any kakapos in captivity?
There are no kakapos in captivity as all kakapos now live in semi-captivity on Anchor Island and Codfish Island, two predator-free havens off the coast of New Zealand.
Why are kakapo endangered?
Kakapos have become endangered due to ecological changes, habitat clearance, diseases, infrequent breeding, low infertility, and the introduction of predatory mammals.
This parrot is classified as “CR” or “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN.
The most effective program to conserve this bird was the Kakapo Recovery Program (1995), despite efforts to conserve it dating back to the 1890s.
This program involved capturing these birds and transferring them to islands where they would be safe from predators.
The kakapo used to be found all over New Zealand, but ecological changes, habitat clearance, ecological changes, and the introduction of predatory mammals all contributed to the reduction of the population to just 51 in 1995.
There are only around 200 left in the wild as of 2021.
The infrequent breeding of kakapo also contributes to its near-extinction.
This is because they feed their young native tree fruits. These trees like – rimu and Pink pine only produce fruit every 2-6 years, and kakapo only breeds during those periods.
The kakapo’s natural diet consists of grasses, herbs, and coarse leaves during the lean years in between, which lack enough nutrients for chick rearing.
Working with New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, environmental and evolutionary, biologists at the University of Glasgow developed a nutritional supplement intending to increase egg production in the few remaining kakapos.
“Kakapo had been reluctant to breed, and when we analyzed their food, we suspected that their diet was to blame,” said David Houston, a professor of zoology at the University of Glasgow.
All birds need certain essential nutrients in their food to lay good quality eggs during egg-laying, which is a demanding time for birds.
Diseases are also another contributing factor.
‘We’ve had a couple of disease difficulties over the last several years, which is alarming given their population is so small,’ says Andrew Digby, a conservation scientist with the New Zealand Department of Conservation.
‘Approximately half of the population shares the same type of disease resistance genes. So it’s possible that if a disease occurs in which that particular genome type is susceptible, the entire population will be wiped out.’
Kakapos also have a poor fertility rate.
Only around 60% of eggs are fertile at the moment, and only about a third of them hatch into fully-fledged chicks.
Inbreeding, according to scientists, is one of the reasons for this.
Are kakapos extinct?
The kakapo is not yet extinct, though they remain critically endangered. In 1995, there were just 51 of the remaining, with 50 being isolated on tiny Stewart Island to the south of the South Island, and a lone male being the last remaining bird on the mainland. Thanks to recent conservation efforts, those numbers are now back up to around 200.
Now, a team of researchers from New Zealand and Sweden has discovered that the quirky, waddling bird isn’t completely hopeless.
Despite their small gene pool and isolation, the team’s genetic analysis shows that they have lost several potentially harmful mutations rather than accumulating them as previous theories suggested.
“Even though the kakapo is one of the world’s most inbred and endangered bird species, it has far fewer deleterious mutations than expected,” said Dr. Nicolas Dussex of Stockholm University and Center for Palaeogenetics.
Findings show that the surviving population on Stewart Island has been isolated for almost 10,000 years and that during that time, harmful mutations have been removed by natural selection in a process known as ‘purging,’ which may have been aided by inbreeding.
To make the discovery, the team conducted the first-ever detailed analysis of 49 kakapo genomes – 35 taken from living birds on Stewart Island, and 14 from the functionally extinct mainland population.
In addition to indicating that the picture may not be as bleak as was once thought for the kakapo, the study could also be used to select the birds most suitable for breeding future populations, the researchers said.
For example, the sole male survivor from the mainland, Richard Henry, was discovered to have more harmful mutations than the Stewart Island birds.
Despite this, because he is genetically distinct from the other birds, he may prove to be the best candidate.
While the species is still critically endangered, this results in reassurance since it demonstrates that a large number of genetic defects have been lost over time and that high inbreeding alone may not mean the species is doomed to extinction.
How many kakapos are left in the world?
There are about 208 kakapos left in the world. This is a new high since conservation efforts began more than two decades ago. However, this is still a very low number for a species as this poses a breeding problem.
Because many kakapos are inbred, there is little genetic variation. The lower the genetic diversity, the less likely they are to survive.
The Kakapo125+ Project, which sequenced the genes of every living adult kakapo as well as some deceased birds, was recently completed by the Kakapo Recovery Program.
This is one of the first times genomes are being sequenced for an entire species.