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What Is a Kakapo?

By Melanie Smeltzer
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A kakapo, also sometimes referred to as an owl parrot, is a nocturnal, flightless parrot native to New Zealand. The scientific name of these birds is Strigops habroptilus, which refers to several owl-like physical features, such as their uncommonly soft feathers. Also known for their large size, these birds can reach up to 1.9 feet (60 cm) in height and 8 pounds (3.5 kg) in weight. Though long living, some surviving up to the age of 60, these unique parrots are considered to be critically endangered.

Best known by its Maori name, which means night parrot, the kakapo is a large, night-dwelling parrot with an unusual appearance. These birds bear soft, blotchy green and yellow feathers that sit atop a layer of down. Like owls, kakapos have a disc of fine feathers around their faces, and also bear whisker-like plumage that surrounds their large, blue-gray beaks. Males and females are difficult to distinguish from each other, as there are only small differences between them. Females typically have longer, more slender beaks and thinner, pink-gray legs, while the males generally bear heads that have a dome-like shape and brighter feathers.

The wings of the kakapo are also characteristic features. Their wings are relatively short in comparison to those of other birds, and are not used to fly in the traditional sense; however, they are still very useful to the bird. For instance, they use their wings to parachute from trees, to keep their balance, fight rivals, and attract mates. Given that their flying abilities are limited, kakapos most often roost on the ground. They are considered excellent climbers, however, and may sometimes be found taking cover in large trees.

A nocturnal bird, the kakapo is known as a solitary creature, only gathering to breed and raise its chicks. Despite this, those working to conserve these birds have found that they bear distinct personalities and are sometimes playful with humans and other birds. Young kakapos occasionally engage in play fighting, holding the neck of other birds between their chests and chins.

Kakapos are not closely related to most species of parrots and, in fact, only belong to a small sub-family known as Strigopidae. This sub-family bears about five species divided into two genera, Nestor and Strigops. Though many birds in the Nestor genus have similar names, kakapos belong to the Strigops genus and are the only members of this group.

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