Antipodes Island Parakeet Guide

All About Antipodes Island Parakeet
All About Antipodes Island Parakeet



Antipodes Island Parakeet Cyanoramphus unicolor or ‘Antip’, as it is endearingly known, is the largest member of the Cyanoramphus genus, measuring approximately 32cm. These parrots are uniformly green, long-legged and have an inquisitive nature. Adding to their charm is their mischievous look.

These birds are ground-dwellers, but are not without flight. They fly short distances, and tend to hang out alone or in pairs and family parties rather than in large flocks.

Interestingly, they hop along the ground like a blackbird rather than having the usual parrot walk, which is quite unique.

They are highly energetic, and this is displayed in the captive specimens seen throughout New Zealand. In this article, I will discuss this rarely focused on and little-known species and its island life.

APPEARANCE


It is immediately clear when looking at C. unicolor that it resembles other kakarikis in this genus—apart from the missing splash of red colour on the crown.

Otherwise, the Antipodes Island Parakeet displays similar traits, including call.

Sexing is usually done by size, with the males being larger and having a broader bill.





ISLAND LIFE


In the sub-Antarctic, the Antipodes islands lie 870km south-east of the South Island of New Zealand. These islands, controlled by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC), are remote and inhabited only by wildlife. They comprise the central Antipodes Island, Bollons Island (just north of Antipodes Island) and several islets.

Strict rules govern the Antipodes—who can land and stay on the islands, and for how long. Island life is one of extremes, with heavy winds, fog, rain, snow and cold temperatures making up the weather and shaping the environment. There are no forests on the islands, which have large amounts of tussock in parts.

Like many islands, the Antipodes has a history of visits from early European sailors who collected specimens and more while there. With dense fog blanketing parts regularly, it is no surprise that shipwrecks also occurred on the Antipodes group.

The islands are home to two Cyanoramphus species—the larger Antipodes Island Parakeet and Reischek’s Parakeet C. hochstetteri. Despite living in isolation, no records of hybridisation between the two species seem to exist.

They share the islands with other avifauna such as penguins, albatross, snipe and sea birds (and, until recently, mice…but more on that later).

A Seabird or Two


The diet of the Antipodes Island Parakeet may shock readers because, although this species has a rather ‘normal’ diet, consisting largely of grass stems, leaves, along with seeds, insects, flowers and berries, these birds have also been recorded killing seabirds in their burrows and chewing on dead penguins near the seashore.

It would seem that it is not out of the ordinary for this species to visit burrows of nesting seabirds, such as the Greybacked Storm Petrel Garrodia nereis, and kill and eat the young or adult birds.

Antipodes Island Parakeets are equipped with a large, powerful beak used in the kill, and it is believed they may also drag the carcass back up to the surface. The species has been observed picking at scraps around penguin colonies, including at the carcasses of dead birds. Such is the harshness of island life that this species has adapted to eat almost whatever is on offer.

Of Mice and Birds


The Antipodes, like many islands around the world, was plagued by mice. The mice likely turned up more than 100 years ago with seafarers, or via a shipwreck.

The population ate eggs and chicks, and competed for food, and was estimated to be in the low hundreds of thousands.

Noting the issue, after research the DoC and its partners set about employing a million dollar eradication program in 2016. It was a huge success. The Antipodes was declared mouse-free in 2018 after numerous searches were made and traps set without a single mouse detected.

It will be interesting to see what affect this eradication program has on the numbers of birds on the island and whether a dramatic increase will be seen in the short-term or if it will take time before numbers rise.

IN CAPTIVITY


The Antipodes Island Parakeet, unlike a number of members of the Cyanoramphus genus, is not available to private aviculture.

Instead, a small population is held by zoos, wildlife parks and a limited number of private holders, who work together within New Zealand. These birds are used for advocacy, with the aim of educating people on the wildlife of sub-Antarctic islands.

A breeding program and studbook is held by the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) under which all the birds are monitored carefully.

Captive History


The species’ history in captivity dates back to the days of artist and poet Edward Lear, who named the species after being introduced to it upon its arrival at the Zoological Gardens in London in 1831. In 1967, it was reported (Surveillance, 1991, vol. 18, no. 1) that wild-caught birds of both the Antipodes Island Parakeet and the Reischek’s Parakeet were brought to mainland New Zealand. These birds were kept at the Wairarapa Bird Sanctuary, now known as the Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre on the North Island.

It appears a total of 12 birds were brought in, but there is no breakdown as to the numbers of each species or sex.

It is known that these birds increased in number and that Antipodes Island Parakeets were later unsuccessfully introduced to Stephens Island, a wildlife sanctuary since 1994.

The current captive population is incredibly closely related and in need of a genetic boost. Without such, we may see the species die out in captivity, which would be a shame for the species and for those wanting to educate people on the plight of such island species.





Antipodes Island Parakeet Diet/Food


In captivity, Antipodes Island Parakeets will live happily, and breed on a varied diet just like that given to the rest of the Cyanoramphus genus. They consume a Budgie seed mix with added sunflower, safflower and buckwheat. Apple, parboiled carrot, peas, corn and lots of leafy greens will be readily consumed, as will ground-based foods like puha (sow thistle), along with dandelions, roots and all, particularly the seeding heads.

Livefood such as mealworms is an option but not a necessity.

Housing: Antipodes Island Parakeet


A number of factors have been taken into consideration by those housing these birds. As ground-dwellers, conventional aviaries are required—a planted aviary resembling their own habitat, with the addition of enrichment areas such as tunnels to run through, is of great benefit.

No matter how large an aviary, this species will make use of it all and enjoy exploring every part. Auckland Zoo houses its pair of Antipodes Island Parakeets in a long walk-in aviary. The aviary is complete with grass clumps, a pond and a structure at one end that resembles an explorer’s hut on a sub-Antarctic island. The birds explore and pop in and out of the rock work in the enclosure. They are curious birds by nature, and this is on show as they regularly land close to members of the public, who are enamored by them.


How to Breed Antipodes Island Parakeet



How to Breed Antipodes Island Parakeet


As with other members of the Cyanoramphus genus, this species will breed well when given the opportunity.

They are tunnel-nesters on the islands, which makes perfect sense, considering there is no forest and extremes of weather.

In a captive setting, these birds will breed in a nest box located on or close to the ground, although some breed in boxes at a height of 1.5m.

Breeding may occur as early as August and run through to around December in captivity. Clutch size for these birds is about five eggs, and double-clutching may occur.

Being from the sub-Antarctic, the December heat may cause issues on the mainland for nesting birds and their young.

The female incubates, with hatching occurring at approximately 24 days. The male visits the nest to feed his partner during this time. Young leave the nest and are fed by both parents.

CONCLUSION

While not a species available to aviculturists, or able to be viewed easily in their natural habitat without authorisation and a long boat trip, this species certainly has a lot of admirers. The captive population is becoming more closely related with each generation, and it can only be hoped that more are brought to the mainland to assist with genetic diversity and prevent a population crash.

The wild population is said to be around 1000–2000 individuals and, thankfully, barring a major catastrophe, looks set for a bright future now that mice have been eradicated from their island home. With some Cyanoramphus species already extinct, we cannot afford to let another go the same way!
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