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Diet And Feeding Habit Of Kea

Diet And Feeding Habit Of Kea


Kea parrots (Nestor notabilis) are iconic inhabitants of New Zealand’s South Island, known for their intelligence, curiosity, and mischievous nature. Understanding the diet and feeding behavior of kea is crucial for their conservation and management in both wild and captive settings. In this comprehensive exploration, we delve into the intricacies of Diet And Feeding Habit Of Kea and how their feeding behavior contributes to their survival and ecological role.

Natural Diet of Kea Parrots:

Plant Matter

Kea parrots primarily feed on a variety of native alpine vegetation, including mountain beech (Nothofagus solandri), tussock grasses (Chionochloa spp.), and subalpine shrubs. These plant resources provide essential nutrients and energy for kea survival throughout the year.

Animal Matter

In addition to plant matter, kea also consume animal matter, such as invertebrates (e.g., insects, larvae), carrion (e.g., carcasses of small mammals or birds), and occasionally small vertebrates. This omnivorous diet allows kea to adapt to seasonal fluctuations in food availability and exploit a wide range of resources in their alpine habitat.

Seasonal Variations

Kea exhibit seasonal variations in their diet and foraging strategies, influenced by factors such as food abundance, breeding behavior, and environmental conditions. During the summer months, when plant resources are abundant, kea may focus their foraging efforts on fruits, seeds, and foliage. In contrast, the winter months may see kea shifting towards more energy-rich food sources, such as fatty seeds and animal matter.

Foraging Behavior of Kea Parrots:

Exploration and Manipulation

Kea are renowned for their exploratory and manipulative foraging behaviors, which involve using their beaks and feet to investigate and manipulate objects in the environment. They are adept at dismantling tree bark, prying open seed pods, and even disassembling human-made structures in search of food.

Social Aspects

Foraging in kea populations often involves cooperative and competitive behaviors among individuals. They may form temporary foraging groups to exploit food resources or engage in competitive interactions over access to preferred feeding sites. These social dynamics play a crucial role in shaping kea feeding behavior and resource utilization.

Intelligence and Problem-Solving Skills

The intelligence and problem-solving skills of kea are evident in their foraging behavior, as they employ innovative strategies to obtain food resources. Kea have been observed using tools, such as sticks or rocks, to extract food from hard-to-reach places, demonstrating their cognitive flexibility and adaptability in the wild.

Human Interactions and Dietary Changes:

Historical Interactions

Historically, kea have interacted with indigenous Māori populations and later with European settlers in New Zealand. These interactions have influenced kea behavior and ecology, as they have adapted to human-modified landscapes and exploited novel food sources provided by human settlements.

Impact of Human Settlements

The expansion of human settlements and infrastructure has had profound effects on kea diet and feeding behavior. Kea have learned to scavenge food scraps from rubbish bins, picnic areas, and campsites, leading to dietary changes and behavioral adaptations in response to human-provided food sources.

Behavioral Responses

Kea exhibit a range of behavioral responses to human interactions, including habituation to human presence, increased aggression in competitive feeding situations, and reliance on anthropogenic food sources. These responses can have both positive and negative implications for kea populations, depending on the context and magnitude of human influence.

Feeding Behavior in Captivity:

Challenges and Opportunities

Providing a suitable diet for captive kea presents challenges due to their complex dietary preferences and foraging behaviors. Captive management practices must strive to replicate the diversity and complexity of the natural diet while ensuring nutritional adequacy and dietary enrichment for kea individuals.

Enrichment Strategies

Enrichment strategies play a crucial role in stimulating natural foraging behaviors and promoting mental and physical well-being in captive kea populations. These may include providing food puzzles, foraging opportunities, and environmental enrichment devices that encourage exploration and problem-solving.

Importance for Conservation

Understanding wild feeding behavior is essential for informing captive management practices and promoting the welfare of captive kea populations. By mimicking natural foraging conditions and dietary preferences, captive facilities can support the physical, behavioral, and psychological needs of kea individuals in their care.

Conservation Implications:

Threats to Kea Populations

Kea populations face numerous threats related to diet and feeding behavior, including habitat loss, predation by introduced species, lead poisoning from ingesting ammunition residues, and competition for food resources with introduced mammals. These anthropogenic pressures pose significant challenges to kea conservation efforts in the wild.

Conservation Strategies

Conservation strategies aimed at mitigating human-related impacts on kea diet and feeding behavior include habitat protection, predator control, lead remediation efforts, and public education initiatives. By addressing the root causes of threats and promoting coexistence between kea and human populations, conservationists can work towards ensuring the long-term survival of kea populations and their alpine habitat.


In conclusion, the diet and feeding behavior of kea parrots play a critical role in their survival, ecological function, and conservation. By studying their dietary preferences, foraging behaviors, and responses to human interactions, researchers and conservationists can develop effective strategies for


  1. What do kea parrots eat in the wild? Kea parrots have an omnivorous diet, consisting of a variety of plant and animal matter. They feed on native alpine vegetation such as mountain beech and tussock grasses, as well as invertebrates, carrion, and occasionally small vertebrates.
  2. Do kea parrots eat human food? Yes, kea parrots are known to scavenge food scraps from human settlements and infrastructure, including rubbish bins, picnic areas, and campsites. While human-provided food may supplement their diet, it can also expose them to potential risks such as ingestion of harmful substances.
  3. How do kea parrots forage for food? Kea parrots exhibit exploratory and manipulative foraging behaviors, using their beaks and feet to investigate and manipulate objects in the environment. They may dismantle tree bark, pry open seed pods, and use tools to extract food from hard-to-reach places.
  4. Are kea parrots intelligent? Yes, kea parrots are highly intelligent and exhibit complex problem-solving skills in their foraging behavior. They have been observed using tools, solving puzzles, and adapting to novel feeding opportunities, showcasing their cognitive flexibility and adaptability.

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