Orange-fronted parakeet/kākāriki
PHOTO: Sabine Bernert ©

Introduction

Orange-fronted parakeets, or kākāriki karaka, are small forest-dwelling birds. Te species has a high risk of extinction with only 200 – 400 birds in the wild.

Highlights

Population: 200–400
New Zealand status: Endemic
Conservation status: 
Nationally Critical
Found in: 
Three alpine beech forest valleys in Canterbury: the Hawdon, Poulter and Hurunui
Threats: Predation

Species information: Orange-fronted parkeet on NZ Birds Online

Did you know?

The rarest of our parakeets, they can breed for 18 month straight if food is plentiful.

Orange-fronted parakeet conservation

Orange-fronted parakeet is at risk from predator plagues caused by high levels of seed production ('beech mast'). Battle for our Birds protects this species and other native species from predators.

Comparison of yellow-crowned and orange-fronted parakeet. Photo: P. Jansen.
Orange-fronted parakeet (left) are simliar to the yellow-crowned parakeet (right)

Restricted populations

Reports from the 1800s show that orange-fronted parakeets were once found throughout all main islands, including a few other offshore islands. However, their distribution has reduced dramatically over the last century and the orange-fronted parakeet is now the rarest parakeet in New Zealand. The species has a high risk of extinction with only around 200–400 birds in the wild.

The four known remaining populations are all within a 30 km radius in beech forests of upland valleys within Arthur’s Pass National Park and Lake Sumner Forest Park in Canterbury, South Island. The easiest place to see them, although still difficult, is in the Hawdon Valley in Arthur’s Pass National Park.

Although orange-fronts are now completely restricted to these three valleys, historic records suggest that in the later years of the 1800s, when beech seed was bountiful during mast years, the parakeets would have a breeding boom and disperse onto the Canterbury Plains.

Threats

Introduced predators and habitat destruction are the main reason for decline. Predators like stoats and rats are excellent hunters both on the ground and in trees and exploit the fact that parakeets nest and roost in tree holes. Females, chicks and eggs are especially at risk. Large numbers of stoats and especially rats in beech forests cause huge losses to parakeets. We lost 85% of one valley population due to a single rat plague in 2001.

Vast areas of native forest have been felled or burnt off by humans, decreasing the area available for parakeets. Possums, deer and stock add to the problem by browsing on plants and changing the forest structure. Possums have been recently noted to also predate on the birds, taking chicks, eggs and adults.

1080 poison helps native parakeets

1080 poison is used to protect birds in New Zealand and to maintain the health of forest ecosystems.

Nine parakeet nests in the Maruia Valley that were monitored though a 1080 operation designed to suppress a rat plague in November 2009. One nest was eaten by either a rat or a stoat the other eight were fine. Without 1080 we would have no viable orange-fronted parakeet populations left on the mainland.

In places where 1080 has not been used to stop rat plagues, entire populations of parakeets have been destroyed by predators.

Research and monitoring

We aim to ensure the survival of orange-fronted parakeets both on the mainland and on predator-free islands. All known populations are closely monitored. Research focuses on their breeding by doing nest searches and inspecting the nest holes for their level of fledging success.

All three valleys where orange-fronts are found receive intensive monitoring and control to reduce the numbers of rats, stoats and possums. Predator monitoring is undertaken year-round and sites are intensively monitored during beech masts years when rat plagues are likely to occur.

Captive breeding programme

Lucy Garrett checking an active nest, Poulter Valley.
Lucy Garrett checking an active nest, Poulter Valley
Image: John Kearvell

We work in connection with Isaacs Wildlife Trust at Peacock Springs (Christchurch) to raise orange-fronted parakeets in captivity.

A captive breeding programme was started in 2003, when eggs were taken from the wild and foster birds successfully raised the off-spring. Since then we periodically harvest a nest of eggs form the wild to maintain the genetic diversity of the captive population. The chicks raised since 2003, over 230 now, have been translocated to four predator-free islands. This work is on-going.

Orange-fronted parakeet release.
Orange-fronted parakeet release at Blumine Island
Image: Bill Cash

You can help

When enjoying Canterbury’s beech forests, take note of any signs warning of poison and other Department of Conservation signs. Do not interfere with native birds or the traps and bait stations that are there to protect them.

Dogs are not allowed in Arthur’s Pass National Park or Lake Sumner Forest Park.

Emergency hotline

Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife. 

Help protect our native birds

When visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
  • Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
  • Check your gear for mice and rats when visiting pest-free islands.
  • Leave nesting birds alone.
  • Use available access ways to get to the beach. 
  • Avoid leaving old fishing lines on beaches or in the sea.
  • Follow the water care code and local navigation bylaws.
  • Don't drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.
Other ways to help
  • Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
  • Volunteer with DOC or other groups to control predators and restore bird habitats.
  • Set traps for stoats or rats on your property. Get more information from your local DOC office.
  • Put a bell on your cat's collar, feed it well, and keep it indoors at dusk/dawn and at night.
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