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.