The K?k?, Nestor meridionalis, is a parrot endemic to the forests of New Zealand.
Taxonomy and naming
The K?k? was described by German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1788. There are two subspecies, the North Island K?k?, Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis, and the South Island K?k?, N. m. meridionalis. The name K?k? is a M?ori language word meaning "parrot".
South Island K?k? on Stewart Island/Rakiura, showing red breast feathers.
The genus Nestor contains four species:
- the K?k?, Nestor meridionalis
- the Kea, N. notabilis
- the Norfolk Island K?k?, N. productus "?
- the Chatham Island K?k?, N. sp. "?
All four are thought to stem from a 'proto-K?k?', dwelling in the forests of New Zealand 5 million years ago. The closest relative is the K?k?p? (Strigops habroptila). Together, they form the parrot family Nestoridae, with comprises an ancient group that split off from all other Psittacidae before their radiation.
The K?k? is a medium sized parrot, around 45 cm (18 in) in length and weighing about 550 g, and is closely related to the Kea, but has darker plumage and is more arboreal. The forehead and crown are greyish-white and the nape is greyish-brown. The neck and abdomen are more reddish, while the wings are more brownish. Both sub-species have a strongly patterned brown/green/grey plumage with orange and scarlet flashes under the wings; color variants which show red to yellow coloration especially on the breast are sometimes found.
The calls include a harsh ka-aa and a whistling u-wiia.
Distribution and habitat
The K?k? lives in lowland and mid-altitude native forest. Its strongholds are currently the offshore reserves of Kapiti Island, Codfish Island and Little Barrier Island.
The K?k?, like many parrots, uses its feet to hold its food
The K?k? feeds on fruits, berries, seeds, flowers, buds, nectar and invertebrates. It uses its strong beak to shred the cones of the kauri tree to obtain the seeds. It has a brush tongue with which it feeds on nectar, and it uses its strong beak to dig out the grubs of the longhorn beetle.
K?k? make their nests in hollow trees, laying clutches of 2 to 4 eggs in late winter. Both parents assist in feeding the chicks.
The K?k? is considered vulnerable (CITES II). It has greatly declined, in part from habitat loss, in part because of introduced wasps, possums and bees, which compete with the K?k? for honeydew, which is excreted by scale insects. Research has shown that this honeydew is very important for breeding birds, especially those breeding in southern beech forests. The difficult nature of controlling the wasps makes the K?k?'s future very uncertain. A closely related species, Nestor productus, the Norfolk Island Kaka, became extinct in 1851.