Kea Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


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A green kea hangs upside-down to look in a window at night.

The kea (Nestor notabilis), the world's only mountain-dwelling parrot, is indigenous to New Zealand. 'Kea' is a Maori word; it is pronounced 'keh-ah' (with a hard 'e' to sound a bit like the 'e' in 'bed')1, and mimics the bird's distinctive cry.

Kea are very intelligent and very curious. This makes them highly entertaining, or highly annoying, depending on your perspective... and especially at the cost of your possessions that they may be destroying. For example, a favourite kea pastime at ski fields is to strip the rubber lining from around the windows of your car. Boots left outside tramping huts at altitude will often be found in the morning in a number of pieces. Kea have beaks like titanium tin openers.

Most New Zealanders know a kea story or two. Some of the stories may even be true. One of the best ones tells of a couple of trampers who were holed up in a hut one very cold night out in the Southern Alps. Even if apocryphal, the story conveys the remarkable resourcefulness of the kea.

The trampers were awakened in the wee hours by a continuous scraping noise. Stepping outside to investigate, they found that a kea was amusing itself by using the sloping corrugated tin roof of the hut as a funfair slide. They tried to scare it away by shouting at it, but the kea just ignored them. Going back into the hut, they tried banging on the roof of the hut from the inside with a broom handle every time the kea slid down the roof. This worked temporarily. The scraping would cease while the kea hung upside down from the edge of the roof with its claws to look in the window to see what was causing the noise. When it couldn't see anything of interest, it returned to the game. Finally, after many rounds of banging and hanging, the kea gave up and flew away... or so the trampers thought. An hour or so later, the scraping began anew. They once again tried the banging technique, and were somewhat disturbed to find that the scraping continued unabated. Looking out of the window, they saw a kea hanging from the roof edge while the scraping continued on the roof. The kea had brought along an accomplice so he could find out what was causing the banging.

1Colloquially it is also pronounced 'kee-ah', an anglicised sounding of the word

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