The Cheeky Kea - The Clever Clown of the Alps

The Kea - the Clever Clown of the Alps

Been skiing and missing a wiper blade or windscreen rubbers? Left your glove on the roof but was gone before you could drive off?

Let me ‘officially’ introduce you to our very own indigenous mountain parrot – The Kea.  Innately curious, cheeky, curious, and playful, Kea are attracted to people, their property and generally anything shiny!  Whats more,  they are a regular feature at our local Queenstown ski fields!

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The long and short of it is the Kea is a species of large parrot, and the only alpine parrot in the world.  To give you an indication of size, the adults are about 48 cm long and mostly olive-green with a brilliant orange under its wings with a large, narrow, curved, grey-brown upper beak.  A beak so strong it can rip the rubber trimmings off your vehicle!  The young have yellow ceres and eyelids, which fades to grey as they mature.

Their cheekiness, and ability to interact with humans, and attacks on sheep made them a strong target for persecution for over a hundred years.  Over 150,000 birds were shot between 1860 and 1970 as a bounty hunting method of culling the population to protect our emerging sheep farming markets as they helped themselves to a diet of lamb & mutton!

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They are in fact highly entertaining and most fun to watch.  When in flight they are quite beautiful as they drift over our mountain peaks and swoop down on the car parks.  Their call is distinctive - a long, loud, high-pitched descending cry which may be broken “kee-ee-aa-aa”, or unbroken “keeeeeaaaa”.  Even more amazing, the Kea are monogamous, with long-term pair-bonds so if you see one adult, the chances are the mate is close by!

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Today the Kea are protected – so please don’t engage or feed them.  Our human diet can actually do more harm than help. Our impact on the environment and intrusion into their alpine environment is now a contemporary threat as are accidents with humans and their equipment. 

To safely see a few Kea, pop into Kiwi Birdlife Park on Brecon Street on your way up to the Gondola.  They have a great interactive conservation show worth checking out!