IParrots tend to be intelligent birds with inquiring minds. They range in size and choice of habitat, feeding mainly on plant material and occasionally on insects. They like to build their nests in tree hollows and rock crevices. Te Hauturu o Toi (Little Barrier Island) has four of Aotearoa’s parrot species, enjoying the safety of its island sanctuary. These are the kakapo, kaka and both the red-crowned and rarer yellow-crowned kakariki or parakeet.
The kakapo is the world’s largest parrot. It is nocturnal, flightless and long-lived. Altogether a most unusual parrot. Once present in large numbers throughout New Zealand, it was dying out in the North Island by the 1930s due to forest clearance and mammalian predators. It does not appear to have occurred naturally on Hauturu, but in the early 1980s, after feral cats were removed from the island, 22 kakapo were brought there for safe keeping from various places in the South Island. Twenty years later, they were removed to allow for the eradication of kiore (Polynesian rats) from the island. There is now a small population of kakapo back on the island with the hope of developing a wild breeding population.
Kaka are a large parrot similar in size and appearance to the mountain parrot, the kea, except they are a forest bird. They are dull green with bright orange under their wings and on their bellies. They too were once widespread throughout the country. They are present now on some of our mainland and island sanctuaries – including Hauturu, Aotea Great Barrier and Tawharanui. Kaka are inquisitive, noisy and wide ranging.
There are several species and sub-species of our smallest parrot known as kakariki or parakeet. Hauturu has two species – the red-crowned and yellow crowned parakeet. These medium-sized birds are a beautiful bright green with iridescent blue wing feathers and – as their names suggests – red or red and yellow colouring on their foreheads above their beaks. The yellow-crowned parakeet is slightly smaller and tends to be mainly a forest bird, while the red-crowned parakeet will roam forest and grassland.
In 2017, 40 red-crowned parakeets were captured on Hauturu and translocated to Moturua Island in the Bay of Islands. This was done by Project Island Song, a volunteer group that has been returning native species to pest-free islands in the Bay. This translocation has been very successful with some 100 birds now recorded on Moturua, as well as birds being seen further afield. In June of this year, 19 more red-crowned parakeets were captured on Hauturu for translocation, this time to Urupukapuka Island. I was privileged to be invited to the release of these birds to their new home following their helicopter flight from Hauturu. It was a special day shared by Project Island Song volunteers and local iwi and families.
Once again, the treasure that is Te Hauturu o Toi shared its bounty to help bring back New Zealand’s unique birdsong.