Orange-fronted or Red-fronted Parakeet, Cyanoramphus malherbi

The Malherbe’s or Alpine Parakeets (Cyanoramphus malherbi) is endemic to the South Island of New Zealand, where it is commonly referred to as the Orange-fronted Parakeet – a name it shares with the Orange-fronted Parakeet or “Half-moon Conure” (Aratinga canicularisa) from Middle America.

Distribution / Habitat

The Malherbe’s Parakeet was formerly scattered throughout most of New Zealand, but is now confined to the Nothofagus forest on the South Island of New Zealand. They are found in two valleys in Arthurs Pass National Park and Lake Sumner Forest Park in North Canterbury. 

Small breeding populations exist in the South Branch Hurunui River valley, the Hawdon River valley, c.25 km apart and the Poulter valley, North Canterbury. In 2004 and 2005, some were sighted in the North Branch of the Hurunui River valley.

As part of conservation efforts, birds are being translocated to predator-free Chalky Island in Fiordland. Surveys in December 2006 found that translocation to Chalky Island had been successful, with birds breeding and the population expanding.

Following this success, 25 more birds were released on to Maud Island with successful breeding already recorded.

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The Malherbe’s Parakeet is from 20 – 23 cm or 7.8 – 9 inches long (including the tail). Males usually weigh between 45 – 55 g; females between 38 – 50 g.

The plumage is mostly bright green with a distinctive orange frontal band (from eye to eye). The forecrown is pale lemon-yellow. It has orange patches on each side of the rump. The outer webs of the flight feathers are purple-blue. The bill is blue-grey, tipped with black – with a black cutting edge. The eyes are red.

Gender id: Males and females look alike; except the hen is slightly smaller with a proportionally smaller bill.

Juveniles look like adults, but their frontal band is lighter and more indistinct. The lemon yellow crown is less extensive and paler. The tail is shorter for several weeks after fledging. The bill is pale-pink which gradually darkens as the young bird matures. They have darker red-brown eyes.

Similar Species:

  • The Red-crowned Parakeet (C. novaezelandiae) has a crimson forecrown.
  • The plumage of the Yellow-crowned Parakeet (C. auriceps) is yellow-green. They also have a crimson frontal band. They have a yellow crown. The patches on the sides of the rump (lower back) are orange.
Malherbe’s Parakeet (Cyanoramphus malherbi)

Calls / Vocalizations

Their calls sound like a repetitive ki-ki-ki-ki, often slightly higher in pitch and more rapid than the calls made by the Yellow-crowned Parakeet.


They are usually observed in pairs or small groups in treetops or on outer branches of bushes outside the breeding season. Pairs may remain alone throughout year, but these parakeets usually form small flocks.

They often forage on or near the ground. They gather at springs and water holes on islands with limited water supply to drink and bathe. Occasionally flocks fly to neighboring islands to forage.

They are fairly approachable.

Captive Breeding, Housing and Care

Diet / Feeding

They feed on leaves, buds, flowers, shoots, seeds, fruit, berries, nuts and other parts of plants.

They also eat insects and animal remains. On islands and In coastal areas, they forage on seaweed and mussels.

They also take up tiny stones, most likely to help with digestion.


The Malherbe’s Parakeets is critically endangered in its natural habitat. After it was declared a separate species in 2001, the number of orange-fronted parakeet plummeted 75 percent. It has become one of New Zealand’s most endangered birds, with less than 50 birds left in the wild. Conservation efforts successfully increased their numbers to ~ 200-300 individuals.

This species is threatened by the felling of old growth forest, which provided the mature trees which they nested in, by overgrazing of the low bushes which they fed in, and by predation by introduced rats, stoats and cats. Its hole-nesting behavior led to a reduced ratio of females due to nest predation.

The species forages in low-growing shrubs, which have been subject to overgrazing by cattle, deer and possums.


Since 1974, the Malherbe’s Parakeet was considered a subspecies or color variation of the Yellow-crowned Parakeet (C. auriceps). More recent research has shown that it is a valid species (monotypic). In 2000, Cyanoramphus auriceps was split into C. auriceps, C. forbesi and C. malherbi. In 2001, C. malherbi was officially declared a separate species.

Species Names

Scientific: Cyanoramphus auriceps malherbi aka Cyanoramphus malherbi … English: Orange-fronted Parakeet, Alpine Parakeet … Dutch: Oranjevoorhoofdkakariki … German: Orangestirn Laufsittich, Alpensittich … French: Perruche front d’orange … CITES I – Protected Species

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