This information pertains to the red-fronted kakariki (C. novazelandiae) but most of it can also be used for yellow-fronts (C. auriceps).
In the Wild
More detailed ecology here.
Kakarikis are native to New Zealand. There are several species, most of which are endangered or extinct. New Zealand is a small group of islands southeast of Australia. Like most islands, it has very unique wildlife. Until man came, there were no mammals and birds evolved to fill in niches normally taken by mammals. Many of them became flightless and have no fear of predators. When man brought mammals like cats, weasels, and rats, most of the native birds were wiped out. Luckily the kakariki can fly. Still, they spend as much time on the ground as they do in the trees.
Kakarikis have long feet and toes which they use to scratch about on the ground like chickens. Their feathers are also elongated and fluffy to help protect them from the cold (New Zealand is right above Antarctica).
Compare kakariki feathers with those from other species: the cockatiel (A) from the deserts of Australia and the green-cheek conure (B) from tropical Brazil. The down is concentrated near the skin and the tips are dense when compared with those of other species. Elongated feathers can be erected to trap heat near the body. Unfortunately these adaptations can work against them in captivity. Kaks can overheat easily.
Kaks have a very pleasant “wa wa wa” sound and males can be talented talkers.
Kaks are dimorphic so there’s no need for DNA or surgical sexing as long as you know what to look for. Males are about 15 grams heavier than females, and have bigger heads and wider beaks. The females look very thin and dainty. Most males also seem to have a brighter shade of red than hens. Chicks can be sexed by the width of their beaks when their pinfeathers are just beginning to open. Use the following pictures as a guide to sexing your kaks.
Kaks may be susceptible to aspergillosis. I’ve never had a single case of aspergillosis in any of my other species, yet it killed several of my adult kakarikis over the years. That said, I have yet to confirm this problem with other kak breeders and the problem stopped when I moved to Northern California. It could be that my first location just had a lot of spores locally and the kaks were more likely to pick them up and/or develop infections.
Baldness is common in kaks, particularly hens. Not all birds seem to have this problem. The feathers usually grow in during a molt and the bird will look perfect for a week or so, but then the feathers will drop out again. The cause may be genetic (kaks aren’t very common in the U.S. and many have been inbred) or overzealous preening on the part of the male. Kaks seem to drop feathers quite easily, so I can see how a little rough preening would knock quite a few out. My hens look really ratty in the breeding season.
Many of you have reported seizures or strange trances in your pet kaks, and have asked me if this is normal. This year was the first time I’d ever experienced it in my own flock. I placed my male yellow-fronted kak in a brown paper bag so that I could weigh him. When I took him out, he lay on the ground and appeared to be dying. I immediately rushed him to the vet, certain that he would be dead when we arrived. Instead he slowly started acting normal again- first he stood up and wobbled around, and soon he was hopping about the cage. By the time my vet saw him, he was acting normally.
My vet (an excellent avian vet, by the way) told me that some species go into weird trances or even have seizures when certain procedures are done. She said that it really freaks out the owners, but it is perfectly normal. I can’t remember all the species she mentioned, but she said Meyers parrots would go into seizures when their nails were trimmed. Odd and frightening, but they always snapped out of it eventually. Like I said, I’ve gotten numerous letters about seizures, trances and stumbling in kaks, so it appears that they may be one of the species that reacts like this.
Kaks are very busy birds who want to be everywhere at once. They’re the only psittacine that makes me feel bad about clipping wings. Breeders should definitely be kept in an flight and pets should be let out as often as possible. Since kaks are so curious you should make triple-sure that there are no hazards in or around the cage. And be wary of escapes! I’ve seen my kaks perform somersaults in the air to avoid a net. Feed cups should be covered. These guys will flick food everywhere with their scratching behavior. Also, kaks do enjoy running around upside down on the ceiling so I’d advise at least part of the cage ceiling be wire.
The first thing you need to make certain of is that your birds are not hybrids. Red-fronts only have red and it’s found on the crown, back past the eye, as a sort of stripe leading to eye and as a spot behind the eye. Yellow-crowns do not have the stripe or the spot near the eye, but have a small patch of red just above the cere and a yellow patch extending past over the eye. Hybrids look like yellow-crowns with a more orange color and sometimes a partial spot or stripe.
Kaks can be bred similarly to cockatiels and Aussie parakeets. I’d advise only keeping one pair per aviary due to their curious nature. If offered multiple nestboxes they will start a clutch in one box and when the first clutch gets older the hen may start a new clutch in the second box while the male finishes raising the first. They are very prolific for their size (females about 55 grams and males about 75), laying 8-12 eggs. Often the hen cannot properly incubate such a large clutch and some may have to be taken out. Babies quickly begin to look like parents so banding is a good idea (banding is a good idea anyway). For a week or so after fledging their beaks will be beige but then will turn the typical silver tipped with black.
Regular psittacine diet. While most of my birds go right for the corn in their frozen veggies mix, my kaks eat the peas first. One of the most wonderful traits about kaks is that they are so curious. Not only does this make taming easy, but conversion to pellets as well. With most kaks, this is as simple as adding a bowl of pellets next to the seed dish for a day and then removing the seed the day after (just make sure they’re eating it if you switch cold turkey like this).
Kaks were what inspired me to name my business Feisty Feathers. They’re a lot like big budgies- very animated, playful and chatty, but not very cuddle. I’ve handfed both budgies and kaks. It’s a joke. They want to be fed but they’re too hyper to sit still and feed. They want to over there or doing at that. It’s a miracle to get their crops completely full. Kaks make very entertaining pets if you can handle a bird that will get into everything.
Articles and images copyright © 1997-2011 by Karen Trinkaus unless otherwise noted and may not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.