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Kia Ora From New Zealand
"Kea"... Ora!  
By Audrey Goh

I once fed a pigeon with some wasabi. Please don’t sue me. The bird was too inquisitive. It was practically coming for my sushi and I did not have enough to share with 20 other pigeons. Apparently the wasabi worked. It stayed away from me after its first encounter with Japanese food.

Birds are usually not nosy or mischievous. But I guess I’m ‘fortunate’ enough to discover a few species that are more interesting than others. If you are a resident or frequent visitor to alpine environments, you will know of an interesting and protected bird called the Kea.

Raucous cries of “keeaa” often give away the presence of these highly sociable birds. Rated as one of the most intelligent birds in the world, Keas (Nestor notabilis) are an endemic parrot of the South Island’s high country with an estimated population of 5,000. To survive in the harsh alpine environment, Keas have evolved to become inquisitive and nomadic social birds - characteristics that help them find and utilize new food sources. Their curious natures often cause them to congregate around novel objects and their strong beaks are capable of enormous manipulative powers.

However, their endearing and mischievous behavior can cause conflict with people. I remember watching a TV commercial in New Zealand from an insurance company that showed the Kea attacking a brand new car parked by the road. The bird pecked at the car’s window wipers and the side mirror, pulled at the aerial, scratched the bumper, and basically damaged the car enough for an insurance claim! Perhaps it was a slight exaggeration, but the point was well explained. Keas are mischievous and they are only so because of human beings.

Increasing human activity in alpine environments contribute to food scraps. For these birds, our food sources have become a welcomed high-energy food source. Groups of Kea congregate around public sites in Fiordland, especially in Milford Sound and at car parks in Milford Road. With their tummy filled with our high-energy food, these birds have plenty of spare time to explore the variety of new objects placed in their environment by people. Juvenile male birds make up the majority of these loitering groups. The results? Damaged property especially around camping grounds and in car parks. When they cause ‘wreckage’, only a few are the real culprits, the rest are merely there to watch the fun.

The Department of Conservation is on the lookout for problematic birds. To discourage the bird, keep all temptations like boots, packs, food, car window wipers, and brightly colored objects away from the Keas. Last but not least, tourists are encouraged NOT to feed the birds. No junk food, please!

Note: The pigeon I fed only had a tiny bite of wasabi…honest!

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