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On the Habits of the Kea, the Sheep-Eating Parrot of New Zealand

Abstract

THE kea, the mountain parrot of New Zealand (Nestor notabilis), has earned considerable notoriety from its remarkable habit of attacking living sheep. It is commonly stated that the natural food of this bird consists of insects, fruit, and berries; and that it has developed a taste for a carnivorous diet only luring the last thirty years. Mr. Taylor White, however, has recently pointed out (Zoologist, August 1895) that the various statements on the habits of this bird have all been derived from second-hand information; and, as the habitat of the parrot is on the tops of Alpine ranges, owners of sheep and shepherds who in winter and summer search the mountain tops for their stock, are the men best fitted to tell us about the habits of the bird. On observations made during such experiences Mr. White bases his own account. In the district with which this writer was acquainted, the kea always lived high up on the mountains, among rocks and boulders, a long distance above the forest-line; in such a situation, of course, berries and fruits were out of the question, and the bird appeared to live on lichen and any insects it could find. Even when the ground was covered with several feet of snow, and when roots and other food were out of reach, lichen growing on steep rocks would still be obtainable by the bird. The view that the diet of the kea generally consists of fruit and berries would thus appear to be erroneous.

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GARSTANG, W. On the Habits of the Kea, the Sheep-Eating Parrot of New Zealand. Nature 52, 629–630 (1895). https://doi.org/10.1038/052629b0

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