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Kea, Bird of Paradox: The Evolution and Behavior of a New Zealand Parrot

Judy Diamond
Alan B. Bond
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    Kea, Bird of Paradox
    Book Description:

    The kea, a crow-sized parrot that lives in the rugged mountains of New Zealand, is considered by some a playful comic and by others a vicious killer. Its true character is a mystery that biologists have debated for more than a century. Judy Diamond and Alan Bond have written a comprehensive account of the kea's contradictory nature, and their conclusions cast new light on the origins of behavioral flexibility and the problem of species survival in human environments everywhere. New Zealand's geological remoteness has made the country home to a bizarre assemblage of plants and animals that are wholly unlike anything found elsewhere. Keas are native only to the South Island, breeding high in the rigorous, unforgiving environment of the Southern Alps. Bold, curious, and ingeniously destructive, keas have a complex social system that includes extensive play behavior. Like coyotes, crows, and humans, keas are "open-program" animals with an unusual ability to learn and to create new solutions to whatever problems they encounter. Diamond and Bond present the kea's story from historical and contemporary perspectives and include observations from their years of field work. A comparison of the kea's behavior and ecology with that of its closest relative, the kaka of New Zealand's lowland rain forests, yields insights into the origins of the kea's extraordinary adaptability. The authors conclude that the kea's high level of sociality is a key factor in the flexible lifestyle that probably evolved in response to the alpine habitat's unreliable food resources and has allowed the bird to survive the extermination of much of its original ecosystem. But adaptability has its limits, as the authors make clear when describing present-day interactions between keas and humans and the attempts to achieve a peaceful coexistence.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92080-4
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-6)

    In the rugged mountains of New Zealand lives a crow-sized parrot called the kea. This bird possesses an extraordinary, alien intelligence that has given it a paradoxical reputation as both a playful comic and a vicious killer. Its true character is a mystery that biologists around the globe have debated for more than a century. Based on our four-year field study, this book presents the first comprehensive account of the kea’s contradictory nature.

    The kea evolved in one of the most isolated parts of the world. The New Zealand archipelago, located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, consists of three primary...

  6. ONE The Moa’s Legacy
    (pp. 7-25)

    The present-day flora and fauna of New Zealand bear little resemblance to those that made up the community in which keas originally evolved. Nearly half of all the species that thrived in New Zealand a thousand years ago vanished in one of the largest waves of extinctions in history. This “biological holocaust” began with the first arrival of humans on the islands and has continued up until recent times. A new set of actors has now taken over the ecological stage, filling roles that had been left vacant by the original occupants. To understand the biology of the kea, and...

  7. TWO From Relict to Renegade
    (pp. 26-45)

    Human habitation of New Zealand began only about a thousand years ago, when a seafaring people from Polynesia first settled on the east coast of the South Island. These earliest settlers clung mainly to the coastline, fishing and hunting the abundant wildlife and traveling to new areas by canoe. They subsequently dispersed north and south to occupy territory throughout the three main islands. Their descendants, the Maori, eventually became concentrated on the North Island, with fewer settlements on the South Island. By the 1600s the population of the South Island had stabilized at about ten thousand, most of whom were...

  8. THREE Hanging Out with the Gang
    (pp. 46-81)

    Beginning in 1986 we conducted a field study of the kea in Arthur’s Pass National Park on New Zealand’s South Island (see map, p. 29). For the three following years we revisited the park, each time in the early summer of the Southern Hemisphere, from November through January. Our primary study site was the area surrounding a refuse dump near Arthur’s Pass Village that keas have frequented for at least forty years.¹

    We chose this location in part because of an established tradition. Thirty years before, J. R. Jackson, a ranger with the New Zealand Park Service (now the Department...

  9. FOUR Growing and Learning
    (pp. 82-100)

    A typical kea nest contains two to three eggs. Once the eggs are laid, the female kea stays on the nest to incubate them, leaving for only brief intervals. She is fed by the male throughout the incubation period, which lasts three weeks. When they hatch, kea chicks are blind and utterly helpless. For the first month the male feeds the female, and she feeds the chicks. Gradually the male comes to feed the chicks directly, even while he is still feeding the female. The chicks develop very slowly, leaving the nest at between nine and thirteen weeks of age....

  10. FIVE The Prince and the Pauper
    (pp. 101-122)

    Unlike bones or teeth or footprints, an animal’s behavior doesn’t fossilize. We can determine little of the evolutionary origins of the kea’s mode of life from fragmentary remains among the debris of ancient caves. The study of behavioral evolution necessarily employs comparative methods, similar to those Charles Darwin used in his original investigations of the mechanism of evolution. By contrasting the behavior patterns and life history of one species with those of closely related species, differences can be noted, yielding a narrative account of how and why the behavior may have changed. Although comparative data can never firmly establish cause...

  11. SIX From Bounties to Black Markets
    (pp. 123-150)

    In 1989 the rangers at Arthur’s Pass National Park asked us to record the license plate numbers of cars that showed up at the study site at odd hours of the day and any others whose drivers were not apparently disposing of trash. They had heard that keas, possibly poached from the park, were turning up for sale on the black market pet trade in Canada. A few months later, on June 13, 1990, customs and conservation officials confiscated two suitcases at the Christchurch Airport that were bound for Singapore.¹ Inside were eight keas that had been drugged and then...

  12. Appendix A: Common and Scientific Names of the Animals and Plants Mentioned in the Text
    (pp. 151-155)
  13. Appendix B: Supplementary Tables
    (pp. 156-174)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 175-200)
    (pp. 201-222)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 223-230)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-233)