Female kea feeding its chick in Fiordland
Image: James Reardon | ©


The endangered kea is one of the most intelligent birds in the world. This unique problem-solving parrot was crowned Bird of the Year in 2017.


Population: 3,000–7,000 estimated
New Zealand status: Endemic
Conservation status: Threatened–Nationally Endangered
Found in: Alpine and forested environments of the South Island
Threats: Predation, human impacts including lead poisoning, deliberate killing, and accidents with man-made items such as cars

Sound recording:

Kea song (MP3, 977K)
01:02 – Kea responding to recordings of their calls.

Species information: Kea on NZ Birds Online

Bird of the year 2017: Forest & Bird

Did you know?
  • A kea learnt to turn on the water tap at Aspiring Hut campground.
  • A kea locked a mountaineer inside the toilet at Mueller Hut.
  • A kea learnt to use tools to set off stoat traps to get the eggs.
  • A kea was seen having a tug-of-war with a cat over a rabbit carcass.
  • A kea that was being attacked by magpies hid behind a tramper who fended them off.

Kea conservation

The New Zealand kea is a protected species. Like many other native birds, kea suffer from predation by introduced mammals. Kea are also impacted by human activity.

Introduced predators kill kea

Stoats are the primary predators of kea, and cats are also a major threat when cat populations make incursions into kea habitat. Possums are known to prey on kea and disturb nests although they are not as severe a threat as stoats, and rats have also occasionally been observed preying on kea eggs.

Kea are particularly vulnerable because they nest in holes in the ground that are easy to find and get in to.

Monitoring shows that when predators are controlled with well-timed aerial 1080 treatment and/or traps, about 70% of kea nests are successful. Without pest control, this success rate is about 40%.

Kea research and monitoring

The kea research team has been monitoring nests in areas from South Westland up to Kahurangi National Park and in many places in between. These areas are steep, thickly forested and often snow-covered since kea can begin breeding while there is still snow on the ground, so it is a real challenge to track wild kea, carrying camera equipment and large batteries around.

DOC staff throughout New Zealand are also involved in monitoring trees for signs of heavy seeding. Kea are at risk from predator plagues caused by high levels of seed production ('beech mast'). Battle for our Birds protects kea and other native species from predators.

Results from DOC kea research have led to a better understanding of how to minimise the risk to kea from pest control carried out in kea habitat. There is now a code of practice for aerial 1080 in kea habitat that is followed by all such operations being carried out on Public Conservation Land.

Impacts of human activity

Studies have shown that kea in areas where they are fed regularly are more at risk from pest control and accidents with man-made objects such as cars.

Buildings with lead nails and flashing are also a problem. Lead is attractive to kea because it has a sweet taste to them, and this results in lead poisoning.

The birds' endearing and mischievous behaviour can cause conflict with people, and damage to property especially around campsites and carparks. Although a large number of kea may be watching, it is normally only a few birds which are doing any damage.

Despite being illegal, kea are still being shot. If you are having problems with kea in your area, contact the Kea Conservation Trust for advice and assistance.

You can help

Report sightings

Report sightings on the Kea Database website or to the nearest DOC office.

Useful details to note include: where you saw it, what date and time you saw it, the band colour combination or numbers if the kea is banded, and what the kea was doing. Photos are especially useful.

Remove temptation

  • Never feed kea. Feeding kea is harmful to them.
  • Where kea are present, avoid leaving temptations around such as loose clothing and boots, packs, food and brightly coloured objects.
  • Replace lead nails and flashing on buildings with non-poisonous alternatives.

Support the Kea Conservation Trust

The Kea Conservation Trust works with others to research and raise awareness of kea and the issues impacting them. The trust is a valuable source of information from scientific papers to educational material.

Emergency hotline

Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife.

Help protect our native birds

When visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
  • Check for pests when visiting pest-free islands.
  • Leave nesting birds alone.
  • Use available access ways to get to the beach. 
  • Avoid leaving old fishing lines on beaches or in the sea.
  • Follow the water care code and local navigation bylaws.
  • Don't drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.
When out with your dog
  • Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
  • If you come across wildlife put your dog on a lead and lead it away. 
  • Warn other dog owners at the location.
  • Notify DOC if you see wildlife being harassed by people or dogs.
Other ways to help
  • Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
  • Volunteer to control predators and restore bird habitats.
  • Set predator traps on your property.
  • Keep your cat in at night.

Coastal wildlife and your dog flyer (PDF, 1,170K) 

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