New Zealand Birds- Kaka

Our look at New Zealand's birds continues with the second of our three parrot trio. The Kaka is a species of parrot most closely related to the Kea and Kakapo. The Kaka, which has two subspecies, is found in lowland and mid-altitude forests, seemingly undergoing niche partitioning with its cousins (Kakapo post coming soon). Kakas live in the mid to upper canopy of the forests; there they eat an omnivorous diet consisting of berries, fruit, nectar, invertebrates, seeds, and sap. Their tongue is brush-like allowing them to drink the nectar of flowers more easily. They use their strong hooked bill, which is very similar to the Kea's, to strip tree bark to find the larvae of the Huhu beetle.
Like so many of NZ's endemic birds, the Kaka is under threat from introduced mammalian predators. Stoats and possums are the main predators of eggs, chicks, and nesting females. Their nests are especially easy to access for these climbing mammals because they are built in the cavities of trees which the predators can climb easily. It has been shown that with a reduction in predator numbers the Kaka are able to increase their population fairly quickly. Even so, the IUCN lists them as Vulnerable.


Oysters and Calliopes

This is just a short post about two bird species that I saw for the first time. I'm excited about this as it means two more to high-lite in my bird book. More than that, it's two more beautiful animals that I've seen in my life in the wild. The first bird is the American Oystercatcher and the second is a male Calliope Hummingbird. The Oystercatcher was pocking around some rocks with two Black Oystercatchers and was spotted by my friend, I had dismissed it as another Black one. The Calliope was singing in a tree looking very cute. I was able to distinguish it from an Anna's by its white cheek stripes and the throat feathers which he was puffing away from his neck with each call.


Legen of Korra Cake

Sarah, Adam, Emily, and I made a cake for Jesse's birthday and because of who we all are it had to be Legend of Korra themed. Sarah sculpted Korra out of home-made fondant- marshmallows, butter, and powdered sugar. Adam piped the four Nations' symbols onto the sides of the cake.


Uncle Earl Band

This is a short note on a band that I recently heard- they are amazing! It's a group of five ladies who perform folk-country songs. The ladies of Uncle Earl are wonderful and I am proud to be a g-earlfriend (as their fans are called) . I highly recommend their songs. I'm especially fond of Bony of the Isle of St. Helena and One True.


New Zealand Birds- Kea

The Kea is the first of a series of parrots endemic to New Zealand that we will look at in this series on the amazing birds found in NZ. The Kea is the only parrot in the world to live in alpine climates. There it is an omnivore eating carrion as well as leaves, tubers, fruits, insects, and nectar. The Kea was once common all over NZ, but with the introduction of sheep its numbers began to decline, but not for the usual reasons these invasive herbivores negatively impact endemic birds. The Kea were killed off by sheep farmers who feared the Keas would attack and kill their sheep; there was even a bounty placed on them and between 1870 and 1970 an estimated 150,000 Kea were killed. That's right, these parrots will use their beaks to cut the sheep to access the large fat reserves near the sheeps' kidneys. Now, remember that this bird lives in alpine areas where there is little fatty food and it must store fat to survive the winters. Keas most often can obtain this fat from carrion, but with the introduction of large herds of sheep their food source grew.
Like many species of parrot, the Kea is highly intelligent. Tests have shown that they can operate a system of pulleys and levers to obtain food. They also interact with humans frequently, often stealing items such as food and even passports. These human encounters are detrimental to their health as they often eat food that is toxic to them. There are also reports of Keas being purposefully killed after human interactions. Other threats include lead poisoning from ingestion of building materials and poisoning from eating stoats and possums killed with rat poison.
The fate of the Kea is still uncertain despite its listing as a protected species. Nest predation by introduced mammals is a leading cause of chick death. Lead poisoning along with purposeful killing of adults continues today. Their numbers are estimated between 1,000-5,000. The IUCN lists them at Threatened.


The Mysterious Life of Eels

Eels are one of the least understood groups of fish in the world. They are so cryptic that scientists classified their life stages as multiple species. Their life cycle spans oceans an rivers and can take years to complete. It all begins when fully grown freshwater eels lay their eggs in the ocean. These eggs hatch into what is known as a leptocephali (singular leptocephalus). These little creatures are almost totally transparent and have no red blood cells. They feed on marine snow and can grow up to 12 inches. These things make them unlike most other fish larvae. After a period of 3-12 months the leptocephali grow into glass eels, also known as elvers. At this point they swim toward estuaries and begin to gain coloration as well as the common eel body shape. Elvers are frequently caught and sold for food with the price for a pound reaching $2,000 this year. Because of this, they are becoming a heavily fished animal and their numbers are dropping. The elvers grow larger in the rivers and streams growing into yellow eels, the juvenile stage before sexual maturity is reached. The yellow eels mature into adults which go on to produce more eggs starting the whole process over again.
Another cool fact...
Some species, such as the Moray, have a second set of jaws, known as pharyngeal jaws, that come forward when the mouth is open. These jaws allow the eel to bring prey into its mouth as their jaw is too narrow to create the negative pressure to suck in prey (the common feeding method in fish).


New Zealand Birds- Kokako

The Kokako is a flighted New Zealand native that fills the ecological niche occupied by squirrels in other part of the world. It is flighted compared to the fully flightless birds such as the Kiwi, but its wings are reduced and rounded making it a poor flyer, but a decent glider. It has long, strong legs that allow it to jump between trees searching for food. Its diet consists of leaves, fern fronds, fruits, flowers, and insects. The birds form long term pair bonds and can live up to 25 years in the wild. They are also the only bird species known to form male-male pairs that nest together and hold a territory together.
The lineage of the Kokako is an ancient one. It is estimated that the ancestors of the bird, along with its two closest relatives, came to NZ 80 million years ago just before Gondwana broke apart. Of its two closest relative one is extinct and the other is endangered. The family that they belong to, Callaeidae, is thought to be an early radiation of Passerines (song birds). Their next closest relative appears to be the Stichbird, but the taxonomic relationship has yet to be fully resolved.
Like many of NZ's native birds the Kokako has fallen victim to predation by introduced mammals with females being especially vulnerable during their 50 day incubation of the nest. The current population of Kokakos is estimated at 400 with the majority of these birds being male.
They are listed by the IUCN as endangered.

New Zealand Birds- Takahe

Our tour of the amazing birds of New Zealand continues with the Takahe.
This bird is the largest member of the rail family, Rallidae, weighing in at as much as 6 pounds and standing 20 inches high. It was thought to be extinct like so many of NZ's flightless birds, but in 1948 it was rediscovered high in the mountains on South Island. The Takahe lives on alpine grasses, shoots,and insects. They are a long-lived species that takes at least two years to reach sexual maturity. Both male and female parents care for the offspring in above ground nests. Each November 1-3 eggs are laid and 80% of the eggs hatch, but few chicks survive their first winter.
Due to their life cycle they were especially vulnerable to predation by introduced species such as cats and stoats. Like other flightless birds of NZ they were hunted by the Maori and were especially easy to locate because of their loud call. Other threats come from competition for grasses with introduced deer, but the National Wildlife Service is working to cull the deer population, and from habitat destruction due to expansion in paper-tree farms as well as agriculture. As of 2008 there are 250 Takahe living on the South Island.
The Takahe is currently listed by the IUCN as endangered and as having a growing population.