Nestorinae: Nestor Parrots aka Kaka aka New Zealand Kaka

The Kākās, Nestor meridionalis, are parrots that are native to the forests of New Zealand, where they inhabit South and Stewart Island, larger offshore islands. These parrots live in the lowland and mid-altitude forest. They are mostly found in the offshore reserves of Kapiti Island, Codfish Island and Hauturu/Little Barrier Island.

The name Kākā comes from the Māori language but the name kaka is also the general Polynesian word for a parrot. 

Following are other names, this parrot species is known by:  Scientific: Nestor meridionalis meridionalis … English: Kaka … Dutch: Kaka … German: Kaka … French: Kaka, Nestor Méridional, Nestor bruntre du Sud


Plumage  Details:  The Kākā is a medium sized parrot, around 45 cm in length and weighing about 550 g, and is closely related to the Kea, but has darker plumage and is more arboreal.Greenish-brown; forehead, crown and nape greyish-white, sometimes feathers tipped dull green; neck and abdomen brownish-red, hind-neck more crimson and with yellow and dark-brown margins; breast olive-brown; ear-coverts orange-yellow; rump, upper and under tail-coverts red edged with dark-brown; under wing-coverts and undersides of flight feathers crimson; tail brown with pale tips; iris dark-brown; feet dark grey; bill brownish-grey.

Both sub-species have a strongly patterned brown/green/grey plumage with orange and scarlet flashes under the wings; color variants which show red to yellow coloration especially on the breast are sometimes found.

Female has shorter and less curved bill.

Immatures as adult, but with yellowish base to the lower beak.

Length: 46 cm (18 ins) (wing 265 mm – 305 mm or 10.4 – 12.3 ins)

North Island Kaka

Kaka holding its food with its foot

Diet / Feeding:

The Kākā feeds on fruits, berries, seeds, flowers, buds, nectar and invertebrates (i.e., insects). It has a brush tongue with which it feeds on nectar, and it uses its strong beak to dig out the grubs of the longhorn beetle.


CITES II – Endangered … The Kākā is considered vulnerable (CITES II). It has greatly declined, in part from habitat loss, in part because of introduced wasps and possums, which compete with the Kākā for honeydew, which is excreted by scale insects.Research has shown that this honeydew is very important for breeding birds, especially those breeding in southern beech forests.The difficult nature of controlling the wasps makes the Kākā’s future very uncertain. A closely related species, Nestor productus, the Norfolk Island Kākā, became extinct in 1851.


  • the South Island Kākā or New Zealand Kaka, N. m. meridionalis  – Nominate Species
  • the North Island Kākā aka Northern Kaka or Northern Nestor, Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis,

Species: Scientific: Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis … English: Northern Kaka, Northern Nestor … Dutch: Noordelijke Kaka … German: Nördlicher Kaka … French: Nestor bruntre de Nord

Description: Plumage variable; forehead, crown and nape brownish-grey to brown; lores (the regions between the eyes and bill on the side of a bird’s head), cheeks and ear-coverts are yellow to orange, sometimes with reddish tinge; throat and upper breast greyish-brown to orange-yellow; lower breast yellow or orange-yellow; abdomen, thighs and under tail-coverts vary from dark orange to dull red; marked with greyish-brown; sometimes greenish-yellow band runs across greyish-brown hindneck; back dark ash-brown; wings brown with dull green tinge to coverts; rump and upper tail-coverts dark orange to dull red, each feather tipped greyish-brown; under tail-coverts dull yellow; tail brown; inner webs of outer tail-feathers marked yellow to orange; iris dark brown; feet olive-brown; long curved bill brownish-grey.

Immatures as adults, but with olive-brown breast.

Length: 38 cm (15 ins)

CITES II – Endangered … Distribution: Norfolk and Philip Islands

  • Kaka by Duncan WrightThe kea (N. notabilis)
  • The extinct Norfolk kākā (N. productus)
  • The extinct Chatham kākā (N. chathamensis)
A pair of Kakas being affectionate
South Island Kākā on Stewart Island/Rakiura, showing red breast feathers
Photo of author

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