Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Curious Kea

New Zealand is home to some very unique bird life, and while I was on the South Island over the summer I had the privilege of coming face-to-face with one of the most unique - the kea.

The kea is the world's only alpine parrot, and only lives on the South Island of New Zealand. What sets them apart from other birds is their remarkable intelligence. Some researchers have put them on par with dolphins in terms of their problem-solving abilities.

That's all very good, except that this extraordinary intelligence can make them a bit of a pain to nearby humans, who are used to more passive birds. Keas are not passive - they are curious and playful. And they are not afraid of humans, as we learned by hiking on their turf. Here is G having a chat with one on Avalanche Peak.

I like to think of keas as the "reverse engineers" of the bird world. They like to figure out how things work by taking them apart. They use their sharp, hooked beaks and firm grip to accomplish this. Some of their favourite things to disassemble are hiking boots, windshield wiper (as pictured below) and backpacks. Given the opportunity, I'm told, they will also pull the stuffing out of a sleeping bag. Wouldn't that be like a bird horror-show? "Feathers! They're full of FEATHERS! Murderers!!!"

While we were hiking along this track marked by poles, I saw some keas going after the bolts holding the poles together. My theory: they're trying to figure out how to move the poles around and make all of the hikers go the wrong way. You know, as a practical joke!

So if you find yourself in the company of a kea, remember that you should never underestimate what they are capable of (destroying). But mostly, you should enjoy their company, their friendly laughter, and remember that you are a guest in their home, not the other way around.

No comments: