Kākā numbers are increasing in Northland, particularly at Whangārei Heads. Photo / Jo D
If you’ve seen kākā in your backyard recently, you’re not alone.
The numbers of the North Island parrot have been increasing in Northland, particularly at Whangārei Heads, since pest control programmes have been underway.
Webb, of the Whangārei Native Bird Recovery Centre, said six kākā had been through the centre since last Christmas – all were believed to have been hit by cars, and all recovered.
“That’s ridiculous. Normally we’d see one every couple of years,” Webb said.
The birds had come from places as far south as Mangawhai and Kaiwaka, where they were hit on coastal roads. The parrots are well established on islands, including the Hen and Chicks, Great Barrier and Little Barrier.
Kākā had been reportedly nesting further inland in areas such as Glenbervie, where they were previously not seen, Webb said.
Webb said at one time, as far back as the 1970s and 80s, kākā were always around the Bream Head area.
“We had a bach at McLeod Bay for 17 years and about eight of those years were before the refinery was built [in the 1980s]. We would go around to Bream Head early in the morning in the boat and the noise of the kākā and bellbirds was deafening.”
The birds started to move out as the number of rats and mice exploded, Webb said, with no pest control in the area at that time.
He credits predator control programmes with the return of the birds to the mainland in large numbers.
Kākā nests, which are usually in cavities in trees, are targeted by pests such as stoats and possums which eat the eggs.
Pest control programmes have been running in the Whangārei District for a number of years but received a $6m funding boost from Government company Predator Free 2050 Ltd in 2020. The Bream Head/Te Whara Conservation Trust began its pest control efforts in the 2000s.
“There seem to always be kākā there [in the Bream Bay/Te Whara Scenic Reserve],” he added. “I live at the base of Mt Manaia and we see them all the time. I’ve got friends that say they have them in their backyards.”
Tom Flynn-Plummer, from the Bream Head Conservation Trust, said he always saw groups of kākā in the reserve when he walked through it.
Kākā are an indicator species, Flynn-Plummer said, meaning they are particularly sensitive to pest control efforts and their presence (and breeding) would indicate the programme was working.
Although it had not been confirmed, they were very likely to be breeding at Bream Head, as well as on the Hen and Chicks, he added.
In Wellington, increased numbers of kākā returning to the city have resulted in issues with the birds stripping bark off trees in the botanic gardens and eating lead nails from roofs, but Flynn-Plummer said that was not the case in Whangārei.
“In this community, everyone seems to be pretty happy that they’re here. I’m sure if it got to the point where there were kākā everywhere, eating lead off roofs and things like that it might be a bit of an issue, but it’s not quite like that here.”
Webb said none of the kākā he had seen at the recovery centre had any evidence of lead poisoning, which was unlikely as homes in Whangārei were not as old as those in Wellington, so did not have the same lead nails.
”We’ve had none come in with lead poisoning – you can tell when they’ve got lead poisoning.”
Webb was not aware of any problems people had had with kākā so far but was unsure if their numbers would become a problem in the future.
“I’m quite pleased with how the population is certainly building up – that’s for real. Whether it will become a problem or not, I don’t know, because they’re such clowns.”
■ There are two surviving subspecies of kākā, the North Island kākā with an At Risk (Recovering) conservation status, and the South Island kākā with a Nationally Vulnerable status. The North Island kākā are slightly smaller and less grey than their southern counterparts. Two species of kākā are extinct; the Chatham Island kaka and the Norfolk kākā.
■ Kākā are social birds, and often flock together, squawking in the early morning and late evening. They used to be as common as sparrows and Māori referred to them as “gossips” because of their large chattering congregations.
■ Kākā are mainly active during the day and awake at night during fine weather or a full moon.
■ Endangered kākā are high fliers of the parrot world. These arboreal sweet-tooths feed on nectar, fruit, seeds, sap, and honeydew at the canopy level of the forest. Their greatest threats come from deforestation and competition for food from possums and wasps.