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Art Magnet - Kea

Original price $4.90 - Original price $4.90
Original price $4.90
$4.90 - $4.90
Current price $4.90

Art Magnet - Kea.


The kea is an unusual parrot. It is the only truly alpine parrot in the world, and gained early notoriety among settler farmers for attacks on their sheep. Innately curious, kea are attracted to people wherever they enter its mountain domain, and are a feature at South Island ski-fields and mountain huts. Their attraction to people and their paraphernalia is a two-edged sword, providing both new threats and new opportunities.


The kea is a large, strong-flying, olive-green parrot with scarlet underwings and a slender grey-black bill. Sexually dimorphic, female body mass is about 20% less than males and the bill is shorter. Juveniles have yellow ceres and eyelids, which fade to grey as the bird matures.

The commonest call is a long, loud, high-pitched descending cry which may be broken “kee-ee-aa-aa”, or unbroken “keeeeeaaaa”. Many quiet contact calls are given. Juvenile calls are less stable in tone, being more of a loud uncontrolled whooping or squealing.

Kea are unlikely to be confused with other species. Kaka are smaller, olive-brown and very rarely seen above the timberline. They excavate the wood of live trees, whereas keas do not. Kaka have more varied calls, including fluting whistles and harsh grating ‘skraaarks’. The extremely rare and localised kakapo is larger, flightless and nocturnal. It is yellow-green rather than olive-green and lacks a scarlet underwing.

Distribution and habitat.

Kea range over about four million hectares along the axial ranges of the South Island, from Farewell Spit to Waitutu, plus the Kaikoura Ranges. They can be found from coastal dunes to high alpine peaks, but are most common in montane forests and adjacent subalpine and alpine zones. They are absent from the Marlborough Sounds, Catlins, Blue Mountains and both the North Island and Stewart Island.

Kea mainly nest within native forest. Their foraging habitat includes all types of native forest, sub-alpine scrub, tussock and herb-field. They socialise on prominent rocky outcrops and windy saddles above or below the timberline, and are frequently reported in pine forests adjacent to native forest.


Estimating kea population size is difficult due to their extensive range, rugged terrain, low kea density, cryptic behaviour of adults and flocking behaviour of juveniles. With current data, any population estimate is little more than a guess. Density in the upland beech forest of Nelson Lakes National Park in 2011 was approximately one adult female kea per 2,750 hectares, down from about one per 550 ha in 1998. Arthurs Pass National Park holds possibly ten times the density of Nelson Lakes. In a Westland rimu forest the density is roughly one adult female per 500 hectares. A conservative estimate of one adult female per 2000 hectares of forest gives a total population of 4000 adults (males plus females). Productivity estimates predict about one juvenile for every breeding pair, giving a total population of about 6000 birds. Other commonly cited estimates are 15,000 and 1,000-5,000. Both of these seem extreme given recent survey data, with the actual number of kea likely to be between these numbers

That the kea persists despite the shooting of 150,000 birds between 1860 and 1970 indicates a high reproductive potential. Fats and proteins scavenged from the carcasses of deer and sheep may have boosted productivity among the reclusive breeding adults. Juveniles were probably disproportionately culled, being more gregarious, conspicuous and inquisitive than adults.

Size 9cm H x 6.5 cm W.