Kakapo egg with Kiwi, tern and Weka

Kakapo are ‘lek’ breeders. In late spring and early summer, all or some of the sexually mature males clear their track and bowl systems. The track and bowl systems consist of tracks leading to shallow depressions in the soil, which are usually in a prominent place where the calls may be projected a long distance. The males remove any encroaching vegetation which may impede the projection of their calls. The males give three types of calls during the season which is from December to March; non-directional, low-frequency booming which can go on every night for up to four months, and may carry up to five kilometres; directional, high pitched 'chinging', which guides a female to the exact position of the male; and a harsh call which is directed towards other males. When booming males inflate the thoracic air sacs, they act as a resonating chamber.

Females travel several kilometres to visit the displaying males to mate. The dominant males mate with several females.

The kakapo is the only flightless bird, the only New Zealand bird, and the only parrot in which lek behaviour has been observed. This is the males' only contribution to breeding. Kakapo breed once every two to five years. Even when there is a breeding season, not every female lays. Successful breeding requires an abundant supply of food throughout the breeding cycle and depends upon "mast", or heavy fruiting of trees, particularly rimu.

The nesting place of the Kakapo is described by Potts as "usually a hole either ready made or one which requires but little labour to fit it for use, such as a place often selected amongst roots or dead trees; sometimes its home is tunnelled in the ground".

Up to four eggs are incubated, entirely by the female, for about 30 days. The eggs are white, finely granulated, 49 x 35.4 mm. Chicks are also raised by the female, who leaves the helpless chicks for several hours each night while she goes away to feed. While the female is away the chicks and eggs are particularly vulnerable to predation. The chicks stay in or near the nest for about three months and depend on the female for food for at least three months after that.

The young birds then establish a home range of their own, up to several kilometres away. It is not clear exactly when young birds reach sexual maturity but males may be mature at four years. The youngest female known to lay was nine years old.

Kakapo are herbivores, eating a variety of foods - roots, bark, stems, leaves, flowers, fruit, rhizomes, and seeds.

Kakapo are long lived, some probably living to 30 – 40 years.

Although the Kakapo is mentioned by Dieffenbach in his Travels in New Zealand published in 1843, he had not seen a specimen. The first skin to come into the hands of Europeans was obtained at Dusky Sound and forwarded to England in 1845, and was described and figured by Gray in his Genera of Birds.

Sub Species:

Song:  — 

 Viking Sevenseas

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»»»  Song of Kakapo

Other common names:  — 

Owl parrot.

Description:  — 

Endemic bird

63 cm., male 2.5 kg., female 2 kg., moss green above, greenish yellow below, mottled with fine brown and yellow bars, owl-like facial disk.

Where to find:  — 

Probably the only real opportunity to see a Kakapo is as a Department of Conservation volunteer, although one of the 86 remaining flightless parrots will be taken from his Codfish Island home to Ulva Island for selected visitors to view from late August, 2006. Both islands are close to Stewart Island.

Poetry:  — 

The Owl is silent, dark, and still
And so, out in the ancient countries—
How strange they seem, those old far lying countries—
They hold him bird of wisdom and of will.

They never saw the Kakapo,
That, like the squirrel, laughs at winter.
Now has an owl the sense to laugh at winter?
Our bird is thrifty - they, what do they know?

And if their owls are then so wise,
Have they been known to meet in conclave?
Our Kakapos hold high and secret conclave,
And summon parliaments if need arise?

Oh, they may keep their haughty little Owl.
Our bird is sweet to little children,
Friendly, and frank, and clumsy, like the children,
What friendship is there in an owl?

Then live, oh live, old tumbling Kakapo,
Our mossy roots are yours, are yours forever,
Our trees, our bush, our banks are yours forever,
Live on and leave us not, O Kakapo!

— Eileen Duggan

Illustration description: — 


Proceedings of the Zoological Society, Aves XLVI, eggs, Apteryx mantellii, Sterna __?, Strigops Habroptilus, Ocydromus australis: hand–coloured lithograph. J.Wolf lith. M&N Hanhart Im.

Gray, George Robert, Genera of Birds, 1844–49.

Reference(s): — 


Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.

Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Page date & version: — 


Saturday, 24 May 2014; ver2009v1


©  2005    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.