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Parrots of New Zealand

Brent Barrett | Nov 15, 2011


New Zealand in all its unique glory and story book endemics has but seven parrot special to call its own.  This may be a surprise to some who are familiar with Australia which contains 1/6th of the worlds parrot species.  But what can I say, we are a small place with small dreams and compared to Norway, which only has one mythical blue parrot, we are doing our best.  So who are these select few species which call Aotearoa (Maori for New Zealand) home? 

I have already spoken about the Kakapo  (Strigops habroptila) an enigmatic bird which captures the hearts of millions just by walking around slowly looking very green and sleeping all day.  His two main cousins are the Kea (Nestor notabilis) and the Kaka (Nestor meridionalis).  These are both similar with the former (of which I have spoken in depth) being the alpine cousin and the later occupying the dense forest of the North and South Islands (thus the two islands forming the delineation of the two north and south sub-species of Kaka).  Throw in the name parakeet and that’s it you can go home and think about another country’s parrot species.


Night visit with Kakapo


Kaka (South Island)                             


Kea (Mountain Pass Village)

However it is not that simple because the parakeets are where we gain real diversity.  The first three larger parrots are easily discussed, described and differentiated from each other (Kakapo, Kea and Kaka), however all but one of our native parakeet species, or Kakariki in Maori, look virtually the same - apart from wearing different eye-shadow.  They are the Red-fronted Parakeet (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae - often called the Red-crowned Kakariki), the Yellow-fronted Parakeet (Cyanoramphus auriceps) and the endangered Orange-fronted Parakeet (Cyanoramphus malherbi).  Obviously crown colour is the main difference although here red really is bigger (and like cars possibly faster).  That leaves the seventh and final endemic parrot species of New Zealand the Antipodes Island Parakeet (Cyanoramphus unicolor). 

This is the least studied parrot species within New Zealand waters.  It is entirely green without the characteristic coloured frond (or crown) of all the other New Zealand parakeets and is much larger than all the parakeets.  The most curious thing about this species is that it is one of only two predatory parrots in the world (the other being the Kea).  It is found on only one island in the sub-Antarctic waters about 800km southwest from the New Zealand mainland.  In my opinion a pretty awesome bird, but more on him later.  Within these groups the Red-fronted Parakeet has six extant subspecies that population as far as New Caledonia (C.n.saissetti) and Norfolk Island (C.n.cookii) and two subspecies which are now extinct (historically found on Lord Howe Island (C.n.subflavescens) and Macquarie Island (C.n.erythrotis). 

The four sub-species found with in New Zealand are most importantly C.n.novaezelandiae which is found throughout the mainland and most offshore islands including the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands.  There is also Reischek’s Parakeet C.n.hochstetteri which co-inhabits the Antipodes Islands with the Antipodes Island Parakeet (described above).  Moving up the country the Chatham Island Parakeet C.n.chathamensis then finally the Kermadec Parakeet (C.n.cyanurus) found on the Kermadec Islands.  All of the Red-fronted Parakeets differ only slightly in plumage (mostly in the crown) and size. 

The Yellow-fronted Parakeet is only represented by two subspecies the C.a.auriceps which is found throughout New Zealand and offshore islands including the Auckland Islands and the Forbes’ Parakeet C.a.forbesi which is only found on the Chatham Islands.  These differ in plumage and size with C.a.auriceps being the most numerous parakeet species in New Zealand and the most common on the mainland. 

As mentioned the kaka are separated into two sub-species, namely N.m.septentrionalis from the North Island and surrounding Islands and N.m.meridionalis the more colourful of the two found in the South Island and large off-shore islands including Stewart Island.  Well that concludes our review of what we should already know.

Antipodes Island Parakeet

Antipodes Island Parakeet                                                         

Red-fronted Parakeet

Red-fronted Parakeet

 Yellow-fronted Parakeet

Yellow-fronted Parakeet