The island of New Zealand is a very beautiful place and although rumors say that it is completely covered in sheep, it actually has some of the world's most unique flightless birds. One of those is a very unique bird known as the Kakapo, which is actually a flightless, ground dwelling, nocturnal parrot, endemic to the islands. There are soo many things weird about that last sentence and even though I know its correct, I still feel like its a double negative. How can a parrot be flightless? How can a parrot be nocturnal? Why is there such a small number of them? Why has barely anyone heard of them before?
Well, Kakapos have actually had a pretty rough existence and are considered critically endangered by the IUCN. This flightless bird has actually been devastated in the wild due to the introduction of invasive predators. Since Kakapo are ground dwelling and cannot fly away from a predator, they are highly susceptible to the attacks from cats, ferrets and stoats which have been introduce to New Zealand for various reasons. Kakapo populations have also been devastated by rats, which are great at accessing the birds nest and eating the eggs. When you combine the biology of these flightless birds, along with the introduction of invasive predators you get a recipe for extinction and extinction was the menu for the Kakapo.
People always ask me, "Well why don't they just fly away?!" and my answers is always, "because they are flightless!". Yet, this continues to confuse the majority of people. Kakapo are missing a part of their body that other flying birds have called the keel. The keep is attached to the sternum and works directly with the flight muscles, as they normally attach to the keel. They also have very little wings. So, Kakapo are flightless... These birds evolved to be flightless by filling a specific ecological niche on an island with no predators. So, when predators were introduce by humans to the island, the Kakapo and many other of New Zealand's flightless birds were destroyed.
As conservationist and biologist started to figure out what was going on the Kakapo became very strongly protected. Their nests are managed and checked regularly, all individuals are tagged and marked with radio trackers to make sure the Kakapo populations are staying stable. It was hard to tell from public records how low the population got in the wild, but it was below 100 individuals let and there were times scientists were worried there was no more females in certain populations. Once the New Zealand Wildlife Service was started and regular data was taken, the Kakapo started to make a comeback.
Kakapo are not out of the woods yet, as there is still estimated to be only about 213 individuals according to the Kakapo Recovery website managed by the New Zealand government. If you want to learn more cool facts about the Kakapo then head over to the Kakapo Center of the kids zone.