7 min read

World's Rarest Parrot Is A Loner And Can't Even Fly But Is Utterly Fabulous

<p><em>Wikimedia Commons/Mnolf</em></p>

Meet the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), or 'owl parrot.' This New Zealand bird just happens to be the world's rarest parrot.

There are fewer than 150 kakapo in the world.

(YouTube/KakapoRecovery)

The arrival of the Māori and other mammalian predators like dogs, cats, and rats had all but wiped out the once-widespread kakapo from most of New Zealand's islands by the late twentieth century. Since the 1980s, Kakapo Recovery has worked to reestablish populations on a few islands. While the population has grown slowly, but fairly steadily, since the late 1990s, the kakapo is still critically endangered.

So when Mark Carwardine and Stephen Fry went to visit Codfish Island for their Last Chance to See episode on the kakapo, they had to disinfect all their belongings and be inspected for possible contaminants. As Senior Ranger Jo Ledington explained while she combed their clothes for seeds, "The main thing for us is controlling what we can control...we don't want to introduce diseases."

It's the fattest parrot in the world.

(YouTube/Sirocco the Spokesbird)

Kakapo Recovery dubs the kakapo "the heavyweight champion of the parrot world" - with good reason: females weigh three pounds on average, while males weigh in closer to five pounds. And they can pack on another two pounds in anticipation of a breeding season.

The kakapo is the only 'night owl' parrot, too.

(Wikimedia Commons/Mnolf)

The name 'kakapo' is Māori for 'night parrot.' But European settlers who called it the owl parrot were not referencing the late hours it keeps;the genus name Strigops means 'owl-face,' while habroptilus translates to 'soft feather.'

But this parrot can't even fly.

(YouTube/BBC)

Like many bird species native to New Zealand, the kakapo likely lost the ability to fly over thousands of years because it evolved without predators on the ground, which would give any small fat bird a healthy sense of danger. So it has the distinction of being the largest parrot species as well as the one with the smallest relative wing size. It gets around by hiking, jogging, and climbing, which is how it earns its thunder-thighs. The kakapo uses its wings only for balance or to break a fall.

The kakapo's verb? Lek.

(YouTube/Journeyman Pictures)

Lekking is when male birds compete to be the biggest, baddest guy around - all for the ladies, of course. Around December or January, kakapo males find themselves the highest perch possible to begin their courtship ritual, which can last for two to three months. First the male sucks in a lot of air and puffs himself up (a pretty hilarious sight, as you can see above) to release a loud boom 20 or 30 times in a row. This will let all the ladies within a few miles know that it's time for a kakapo shindig. He follows this up with a high-pitched ching sound that lets them pinpoint the location of the party.

It's a really solitary bird.

(YouTube/TVNewZealand)

The kakapo only mates when its favorite food, the fruit of the rimu tree, is plentiful - and that's once every two to four years. Otherwise, it spends all its time alone, sleeping during the day and bumbling around at night in search of leaves, seeds or fruit. A kakapo will give other kakapo in the area a berth of several hundred meters; if they are forced to spend time together, kakapo will actually fight to the death.

The kakapo's entire defense mechanism consists of freezing in place.

(YouTube/BBC)

No, really, that's all they've got. Because they went without ground-dwelling predators for so long, they failed to develop any other defense mechanism besides their (totally awesome) feather camouflage. When they get surprised or feel threatened they stop what they're doing and freeze, hopeful that their natural camouflage and the cover of night will be enough to protect them from whatever might be out there.

But somehow it's among the longest-living birds in the world.

(YouTube/Sirocco the Spokesbird)

The kakapo is thought to live up to 90 years, with a very low adult mortality rate. It is slow to mature, slow to breed, and slow to die. The kakapo even smells old, known for the sweet, musty odor that makes it easy to track down.

Find out more about the kakapo and conservation efforts here.