A group of kea is called a circus 

Highly intelligent and very social, kea learn from their parents, other older kea and from their own experiences.

The opposite of an Ikea specialist 

The cheeky, inquisitive nature of the world's only mountain parrot is well-known throughout New Zealand. Notorious for ’dismantling things’, wild kea are considered ‘neophilic’ - which means they like exploring new things, including human belongings! Anything easy to access and manipulate is fair game, especially if it might have food inside it. And they love the challenge of taking these things apart, which can be a problem if they take a liking to your car or motorbike! 

At the Zoo: 

The circus at the Zoo 

The Zoo’s kea breeding pair can be found in the High Country habitat in Te Wao Nui.

Between the trees and the snow 

Kea are found in the alpine habitats of the South Island. At the Zoo their High Country habitat maintains a relatively low ambient temperature, being shaded from the midday sun by the adjacent forest. Rocky outcrops give the kea natural vantage points for observing the activity in their aviary. The plants of the aviary are a mixture of hardy sub-alpine species and other native species chosen as analogues to those alpine plants which can’t survive in Auckland’s climate. 

Grubs and shrubs 

In alpine environments in the wild, food is not always abundant or easy to find. Being flexible with their diet is helpful for wild kea, so they can eat whatever is available at the time. They are omnivorous, eating berries, seeds, flowers and other plant matter as well as insects, worms, occasional carrion and eggs. At the Zoo the kea enjoy a daily diet of chopped fruit and veg, sprouted seeds and nutritionally-balanced pellets. The diet is divided between ‘hoppers’ throughout the habitat – special food dishes with lids which the kea have learned to stand on to open(like a pedal-bin!). The kea also get fruit ‘stabbed’ onto branches or hidden inside enrichment items and in the summer, giant fruity popsicles. If they’re very lucky they might get an occasional huhu grub or two. 

Keeping the mind sharp 

Keepers regularly provide these clever parrots with behavioural enrichment. Hiding their kai inside homemade puzzles, toys and items to problem solve and manipulate keeps their brains ticking. Because they are such good learners the bird keepers are always thinking of new ways to test them and their skills! 

Positive reinforcement training also keep kea minds active. Keepers train useful behaviours for husbandry and health checks, like hopping into a crate,stepping onto the weighing scales or even lifting up a foot to check the underside of it. In this way, we can check the kea are in tip-top shape. For every behaviour done right, the keepers will give a tasty reinforcement. They seem to especially like peanuts!  


Cheeky kea

Find out more about these creative and noisy parrots from bird keeper Devon.

In the wild: 

Origin:  Endemic to New Zealand 

Habitat:  Alpine and forested environments across the South Island. Kea nest in native forest, and socialise on rocky outcrops. 

Conservation status: Nationally endangered (NZTCS)  


Conserving Kea in Matukituki Valley

We follow bird keeper Jasmine as she journeys to Mt Aspiring National Park to assist in banding and fitting transmitters to wild kea.

How we are helping: 

The Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund supports the Kea Conservation Trust in monitoring kea populations in the Matukituki valleys in Otago. Between the 1860s and the early 1970s conflicts between kea and farmers led to a bounty being placed on the parrot’s heads which resulted in a catastrophic population decline of more than 150,000 kea. By the 1980s the kea population had fallen to just 5,000 and the bird was officially protected. Despite this protection, kea numbers continue to fluctuate, and their future is far from certain. Introduced and invasive mammalian predators, especially stoats, are their greatest nemesis. This is in addition to deaths associated with lead nails and gutters, and even feeding by tourists. Monitoring and research tells us which populations are stable and where additional pest control and conservation measures are required.  

How you can help: 

The inquisitive nature of kea means they will often approach people and cars. As with all wildlife, it’s best to keep a safe distance, and not harass, touch, chase or feed them.  

To support kea and other wildlife in New Zealand and around the world, donate to the Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund