Red-fronted Kakariki

Cyanoramphus novazelandiae

kak16This 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).

feather1

Kakariki feathers are elongated and fluffy.

feather2

Contrast with desert species A (cockatiel) and tropical species B (green-cheek conure).

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.

Noise
Kaks have a very pleasant “wa wa wa” sound and males can be talented talkers.

Lifespan
15-20

Sexing
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.

mfkak1

male (left), female (right)

mfkak3

female (left), male (right)

Weaknesses
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.

yf_kak male

Yellow-fronted male

Husbandry
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.

kakchicks_june15l

Just try to catch us, Mom!

Breeding
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.

hybrid

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.

kakarikis03

They will kick everything out of their feed dispenser/dish. Every inch of their cage will be utilized. There is no dead space with kakarikis.

Diet
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).

Personality/Behavior
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.

Kakariki Network

alicia

The Kakariki Network is my personal attempt to create a database of kakariki breeders and other resources. Breeders are listed free of charge. If you breed kakarikis but are not on the list please send me your information so it can be posted. Keep in mind that this is simply a database of breeders- I cannot vouch for the quality of birds. Please use the same caution you normally would when shopping for new birds.

Please note that many breeders operate out of their homes, and may withhold certain information for security and privacy reasons.

USA Breeders

Non USA Breeders

Kak Information

Kakarikis in the Wild

This was originally a report I did for an Avian Science class at UC Davis.

Kakarikis are strange little parakeets that are native to New Zealand. There are six species of kakariki (two are extinct) and several subspecies (Forshaw, 1977). This paper will focus mainly on the natural history and ecology of the red-fronted kakariki, Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae, although much of the information regarding the red-fronted can be applied to the other species as well. I chose to research this species because out of all the psittacines that I breed, kakarikis have caused me the most trouble. My hen is an exceptional layer, but that is about all. I have watched countless chicks whither and die whether left to their mother, hand-raised by myself, or fostered by my cockatiels who are excellent parents. The abnormally high death rate of chicks, as well the delightful pet qualities of those that do survive to fledging, has captured my interest in these birds. I hope to one day be able to study them myself in their native country.

As island dwellers, kakarikis have had to cope with habitat loss and the introduction of foreign species. Of the four species still surviving, C. unicolor (Antipodes) and C. malherbi (orange-fronted) are the rarest. Many attempts have been made to re-establish species through captive breeding. Sometimes this method is successful, but when it is not, scientists often suspect feral cats to be the reason (MacMillan, 1990). Hybridization among the various species remains a major problem, although some scientists speculate that the orange-front is a only a color mutation of the yellow-crown (C. auriceps) and crosses between these two should be dismissed (Taylor et al. 1986). Update: Scientists have since verified that the orange-fronted kak is a mutation of the yellow-front. However, this mutation is still absent in American aviculture so birds displaying orange are actually red and yellow-front hybrids.

hybrid

Red-fronted kakarikis are mostly green. Their flight feathers are blue but get dark grey towards the tip and they have a red crown, forehead, and band behind the eye. A red spot is located on both sides below the rump. The eyes are orange, the beak is silver with a black tip, and the cere is brown. The feet are zygodactyl with very long toes and nails. They are twenty-six to twenty-eight centimeters long (Wilson, 1990). Most captive breeders find their birds to weigh around 70 grams for males and 55 grams for females (Vriends, 1992). A study of weights of birds on Aorangi Island indicated that the wild population may be much heavier. This study found that the average weight was 82.1 grams for males and 67.9 for females (Sagar, 1988). This may be due to variations in diet between captive and wild birds.

This species is dimorphic, but people unfamiliar with it may find it difficult to distinguish the sexes. Males are much heavier than females, and have a larger body size. Males also have much wider beaks and heads. Once one is familiar with these differences, the birds become quite easy to sex, even unfeathered chicks.

Kakarikis have several peculiar behaviors. They scratch around on the ground like chickens when searching for food (Hyde, 1995). One study found that kakarikis will eat manuka and kanuka leaves to combat parasites (Greene, 1989). Both plants contain a natural insecticide called leptospermone. Birds will also spread juices from these plants over their feathers.

5225410158_ddd7f58356_z

Wild kakariki at Nga Manu Reserve. Photograph by Sid Mosdell.

I have noticed several distinct characteristics and behaviors in my own birds which were not mentioned in any of the articles I found. These observations are completely my own, and should be researched to assess validity. Females are more common than males (other breeders I have spoken with have also noticed this). They are very prone to aspergillosis infections, perhaps because the cold temperatures of New Zealand do not allow fungi to grow as well. They are very agile in flight and can take off backwards. Rather than turning around to see what is behind them, they flip their head back and upon seeing something of interest they will take off and flip over in flight. Their feathers are very long. Tropical and desert psittacines usually have feathers on their body and head which are rather rounded. Kakarikis’ feathers are often thinner and longer, most likely to help keep warm. Kakarikis must bathe daily to keep feathers in good condition. Their feathers are very sensitive when in the pin-feather stage. Many pet birds like to have their pin-feathers opened when ready by their owner. Kakariki feathers are damaged by this activity. They become ripped, cut, and jagged along the shaft. This happens the worst in the flight and tail feathers.

The diet of the red-fronted kakariki is typical of most psittacines: plants, fruit, seed, and occasionally insects. Bellingham (1987) found that they ate “ngaio and taupata fruit, pohutukawa flowers, flax seed and grass seed” and that “fruit and seed together formed over two-thirds of the diet.” The red-fronted is commonly found foraging on islands where rats were not introduced. The islands where it forages have “a wide range of vegetation – grassland, coastal scrub, and coastal forest (Bellingham, 1987).”

Red-fronted kakarikis are prolific in both the wild and in captivity. In the wild, Bellingham (1987) observed them nesting “under the roots of pohutukawa trees” that grew on cliffs near the sea. Kakarikis can make nests in whatever is available to them. They prefer nesting in trees, but when none are accessible they will nest among roots in cliff crevices, on the ground, even inside burrows. Forshaw (1977) wrote that kakarikis are very adaptable to their habitat. They can exist on any island that is free of introduced predators. On Macquarie Island, which has no trees, they are “completely terrestrial.” This willingness to nest virtually anywhere has no doubt helped the kakariki to survive on islands were other birds will not. No real courtship displays have been observed.

The number of eggs laid is very high for such a small bird. This number is the highest in the red-fronted kakariki. Clutches of five to nine eggs are not uncommon. Captive birds, including my own, have been known to lay twelve. Unfortunately, hens with such a large number of eggs often have trouble incubating them all. Only the hens incubate. The incubation period is 20 days (Vriends, 1992). The eggs are similar in size to those of cockatiels, only more rounded. The chicks hatch “covered in white down, but this changes to gray in a few days (Vriends, 1992).”

I could find no information regarding the number of young fledged in the wild, however, captive numbers vary greatly. While kakarikis are capable of rearing large numbers of chicks, “occasionally a high death rate of the young will occur without any apparent cause (Vriends, 1992).” I have personally had this problem myself, but I have always hoped that it was due to a lethal gene factor caused by a limited supply of birds, and not necessarily a trait of this species. Research should be done to see if this problem also occurs in the wild, and what causes it. The young are fed by the parents for a few weeks after fledging.

This species does not migrate, but does occasionally fly to nearby islands in search of food (Sagar, 1988). Red-fronted kakarikis were once common on the mainland in forested areas, but their numbers have been severely reduced. They now remain on Little Barrier, Antipodes, Auckland, New Caledonia, and a few other islands (Forshaw, 1977).

Red-fronted kakarikis and other Cyanoramphus parakeets are curious little psittacines which would greatly benefit from more research. Four of the six species have managed to survive despite habitat loss and the introduction of mammals onto the various islands. Had they been less adaptive, or had they evolved themselves into a very specialized niche like many other island species have done (ie. the kakapo), they might not have endured until today. It is hoped that through research, captive breeding, and restoration of island habitats that this genus will continue to exist as part of New Zealand’s unique wildlife.

Literature CitedBellingham, Mark. 1987. Red-crowned parakeet on Burgess Island. Notornis 34: 234-236.

Forshaw, J.M. Parrots of the World. T.F.H. Publications: Neptune, NJ. 1977.

Greene, Terry. 1989. Antiparasitic behavior in New Zealand parakeets. Notornis 36: 322-323.

Hyde, Graeme. 1995. The kakariki parakeet. Bird Breeder magazine. Fancy Publications Inc. Vol. 67: 16-24.

MacMillan, B.W.H. 1990. Attempts to re-establish wekas, brown kiwis and red-crowned parakeets in the Waitakere ranges. Notornis 37: 45-51.

Sagar, P.M. 1988. Some characteristics of red-crowned parakeets on the Poor Knights Islands. Notornis 35: 1-8.

Taylor, R.H., E.G. Heatherbell and E.M. Heatherbell. 1986. The orange-fronted parakeet (Cyanoramphus malherbi) is a color morph of the yellow-crowned parakeet (C. auriceps). Notornis 33: 17-22.

Vriends, Mathew M. The New Australian Parakeet Handbook. Barron’s Educational Series: Hauppauge, NY. 1992.

Wilson, Kevin. A Guide to Australian Long and Broad-tailed Parrots and New Zealand Kakarikis. Australian Birdkeeper: South Tweed Heads, Australia. 1990.

© 1999 Karen Trinkaus  May not be reproduced without author permission. Photograph credit Sid Mosdell.