Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Kakapo Parrots Back in Time

Out of pure curiosity, I went looking for Kakapos in Google Book Search to see what I could find. Lo and behold, Google did pull up a few interesting "digitized publications", including what must be one of the oldest photographs of a Kakapo (or Owl Parrot) around. This is a picture of a Kakapo from "The World's Birds: A Simple and Popular Classification of the Birds of the World" by Frank Finn, published in 1908. I wonder if he or she is the great-great grandparent of any of the remaining 86 Kakapos?

If we now travel further back in time to 1865, we find a fascinating multi-page appendix devoted to the Kakapo in John Gould's book "Handbook to the Birds of Australia". Here's a couple of brief extracts from the book, which obviously covers New Zealand as well...
Long before 1845, when a skin of this extraordinary Parrot was for the first time sent to Europe, we had conclusive evidence of the existence of the species, from the circumstance of plumes made of its feathers being worn by the Maories. It is somewhat strange, however, that such a lengthened period should have elapsed after the discovery and possession of New Zealand before so singular a bird should have found its way to Europe.
On their ability to fly like bricks...
The only occasion on which the Kakapo was seen to fly was when it got up one of these hollow trees and was driven to an exit higher up. The flight was very short, the wings being scarcely moved ; and the bird alighted on a tree at a lower level than the place from whence it had come, but soon got higher up by climbing, using its tail to assist it.
Finally, this supposed cave gathering behaviour is an interesting idea indeed...
The cry of the Kakapo is a hoarse croak, varied occasionally by a discordant shriek when irritated or hungry. The Maories say that during winter they assemble together in large numbers in caves, and at the times of meeting, and, again before dispersing to their summer haunts, that the noise they make is perfectly deafening.
The full Kakapo entry runs to about 9 pages, and covers their range, the threat to them from cats and rats, diet, behaviour, edibility and more besides. It's quite a fascinating perspective from some 140 years ago, and warrants further Google Book Searches in the future.

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