Kākā up for the odd ‘OE’: One flies 1000km round trip, new study reveals

Kākā face threats from habitat loss and introduced predators., little has been known about the birds' seasonal movements (File Photo).

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Kākā face threats from habitat loss and introduced predators., little has been known about the birds’ seasonal movements (File Photo).

New data has revealed North Island kākā fly longer distances than previously thought– even traveling 1000km round trip in Waikato and Coromandel.

Flight patterns of Kākā have long perplexed researchers unable to figure out why these native parrots – usually found in ancient forests such as Pureora Forest and on offshore islands – have begun moving into urban areas.

But a two-year project – involving DOC and Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, GPS and VHF – has started “piecing the puzzle” together about the social birds’ seasonal movements.

Manaaki Whenua Researcher Neil Fitzgerald said the data illustrates how the movements of highly mobile birds like these are much more complicated than once thought.

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FRYING FASTIER/Stuff.co.nz

Project Janszoon and the Department of Conservation launched a breeding program for northern South Island kaka in 2017 to improve the genetic diversity of the native parrot being introduced to Abel Tasman National Park.

“For many years we’ve known about kākā visiting some towns and rural parts of the Waikato over winter – places that don’t look like typical kākā habitat, and a long way from known breeding areas,” Fitzgerald said.

“We wanted to find out where these birds were coming from and to try to start to understand why. By identifying important sites and threats we hope to help make their conservation as effective as possible.”

The project tracked 25 kākā flight movements near Hamilton and Morrinsville between 2020 and 2021.

The solar-powered GPS tags sent regular, accurate location data, revealing movements over large distances and potentially long time periods.

The tags sat on the birds like a little backpack, with a harness that goes carefully under the wings.

The monitoring found, through winter and early spring, the birds typically stayed within a few kilometers of where they were tagged – as expected.

Manaaki Whenua researcher Neil Fitzgerald, is a bird ecologist and avid bird photographer.

Tom Lee/Stuff

Manaaki Whenua researcher Neil Fitzgerald, is a bird ecologist and avid bird photographer.

From late spring, 10 moved at least 100km away, and another six between 35km and 55km away.

DOC Science Advisor Terry Greene said it was assumed the birds found in urban environment such as Hamilton and Auckland were from nearby forested areas and island sites, but this research shows that may not be the case.

In the first year several tagged birds went to Hauraki Gulf islands including Kawau, Aotea and Hauturu, while in the second year, birds have stayed more around the Waikato.

He said it’s possible roving kākā embark on a sort of avian OE, “zooming around having a look at the place”.

One bird fitted with a GPS completed a 1000km round trip encompassing various points around Waikato, Coromandel and islands in the Hauraki Gulf – a travel distance and behavior never encountered before in study of kākā.

While no birds visited the Waipapa Ecological Area despite there being a “very healthy, relatively close population thanks to years of good control of pest mammals” Fitzgerald said.

Terry said more work will be required for ongoing protection of the species.

Kākā face threats from habitat loss and introduced predators (File Photo).

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Kākā face threats from habitat loss and introduced predators (File Photo).

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