Kakariki Parakeet Guide

Kakariki Parakeet Guide
All About Kakariki Parakeet

The official english name for the kakariki species, popular in Australian and British aviculture, are the Red-fronted Parakeet and the Yellow-fronted Parakeet.

Both are native to New Zealand and have been described in science literature for about 230 years.

There are six species in the genus Cyanoramphus—the New Zealand parakeets known in bird-keeping circles by their Maori name kakariki (pronounced ‘kark-ar-riki’), which means ‘small parrot’.

The names ‘Red-fronted’ and ‘Yellowfronted’ are misleading because it is actually their crowns which are coloured, and it would be more appropriate to call them the Red-crowned and Yellowcrowned Parakeet respectively.

Kakariki Parakeet Species

• Antipodes Green Parakeet Cyanoramphus unicolor 

• Norfolk Island Green Parakeet Cyanoramphus cookii 

• Red-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae 

• Yellow-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus auriceps 

• Orange-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus malherbi 

• Black-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus zealandicus (extinct) 

• Society Parakeet

Cyanoramphus alienates (extinct) I have listed the seven species of the kakariki genus purely for interest. It is worth noting that the Red-fronted Parakeet has eight subspecies and the Yellowfronted has two. The Red-fronted Parakeet is a larger bird, measuring 27cm to the Yellow-fronted’s 23cm in length.

On Norfolk Island, an Australian territory about 1600km north-east of Sydney, the kakariki is known as the Green Parrot.

Within avicultural circles, as far back as 1976, Graeme Phipps stated that the Norfolk Island Kakariki was ‘highly endangered’.

In his Australian Parrots (1981 & 2002), Joe Forshaw states, ‘In the Australian region, the Red-fronted Parakeet occurs only on Norfolk Island and was formerly present on Lord Howe and Macquarie Islands’. The website for the Recovery Plan for the Norfolk Island Green Parrot by Birds Australia 2002 details past and present history of Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae cookii. It states the Norfolk Island Green Parrot should now be considered a full species Cyanoramphus cookii, and ‘as such is one of the rarest and most endangered bird species in Australia’, with an estimated population of 160, largely restricted to Norfolk Island’s 465ha national park.


The deep green plumage of both Redfronted and Yellow-fronted Parakeets is similar, with the head colour differentiating the species.

The Yellow-fronted lacks the red behind the eye (on the ear-coverts) which is a distinctive plumage marking of the Red-fronted. In both, the bill is horn-coloured when they are youngsters, gradually changing to the bluish-grey of the adult bird. There is no noticeable difference in colour between the sexes, but it is possible to recognise small, subtle differences once you become familiar with the species.

In my experience, the most reliable guide to sexing is the size of the beak.

In both New Zealand species, the male’s beak is larger and, with familiarity, the narrower beak of the female is usually obvious. Fledglings can be sexed by the same method and it is possible to sex the young as they begin to feather.

Although the male’s head is usually wider, Alf Lancaster, a prominent Melbourne member of the Avicultural Society of Australia Inc, wrote on the sexing of the Red-fronted, ‘…variations in size are not all that unusual, and I have in my possession a pair in which the hen is noticeably larger than the cock’.

Conversely, WRB Oliver states in Birds of New Zealand that in his research, without exception females were smaller than males, and that the male always has a larger beak than the female. So much for sexing!

An interesting marking in the young of both species is a faded, yellow ‘spot’ on the nape of the neck. The green neck feathers hide this at the time of fledging and it darkens in adult birds. One theory is that because the kakariki is a forest bird, the ‘spot’ enables parents to better see the young in the darkened interior of the nest.


I first became aware of kakarikis as an avicultural subject in the mid-1960s when Alf Lancaster gave a talk on the New Zealand species at an Avicultural Society of Australia Society Inc meeting in Melbourne. He discussed all aspects of his experiences in housing, feeding, sexing, breeding and general management of kakarikis, as well as the lack of available avicultural knowledge of them at that time.

A thoughtful and successful bird breeder, Alf concentrated on breeding up a stock of kakarikis from limited numbers. He tackled the task with enthusiasm, energy and avicultural expertise.

In the early 1970s, I visited Fred Carew, a well-known Sydney aviculturist who had about 50 aviaries in his large backyard. My vivid memory of the visit was watching a pair of kakarikis climbing up the wire mesh front of a relatively small aviary. I was mesmerised by their constant activity and the way they only used their feet to climb—running up and down the wire netting vertically.


Housing: Kakariki Parakeet

In his detailed work with Red-fronted and Yellow-fronted Kakarikis, Alf Lancaster found a successful breeding aviary measured 4m long x 1m wide x 2m high.

He housed one pair of either species to an aviary and, because of Melbourne’s unpredictable climate, closed the aviaries on three sides and provided a 2m-deep shelter section. The front of the shelter, which faced north, was bisected with a frame of translucent (but not transparent) plastic material.

The aviaries I used were slightly smaller in length at 3m long x 1m wide x 2m high, with a shelter section bisected with opaque fibreglass that kept out driving rain and cold winds. Each featured an earthen floor.

Although they will breed quite well in a small aviary, kakarikis are such active birds that they will utilise every section of the aviary, especially if the floor is covered with leaf litter as they enjoy scratching through such (apparent!) debris. This equates with their natural instinct to scratch around the forest floor.

It is wise to worm them regularly because their habit of scratching around the floor makes them susceptible to worm infestation or fungal infection.

As they are a forest bird and have grey down under their feathers, it is important in hot climates to make sure the aviary is well insulated and the wooden nest boxes are thick enough to provide adequate insulation against hot weather.

Nesting: Kakariki Parakeet

Locate the nest box in the coolest section of the aviary for the same reason.

Constructed of 2.5–5cm thick timber, the nest box should measure about 30cm deep, with an internal measurement of 25sq cm.

The lid should be able to be removed during the heat of the day during extreme hot weather (30ÂșC upwards) when young are in the nest. On some very hot days I have placed the nest box on the aviary floor and removed the lid. This doesn't worry the brooding female or the male who feeds her in the nest—kakarikis are remarkably adaptable in such situations.

However, checking the nests of some breeding pairs can cause females to leave the eggs or small chicks, or to pluck larger youngsters. If feather-plucking occurred, I rubbed castor oil soaked in cotton balls into the affected part. A long-time parrot breeder taught me this effective cure— maybe it works because the parent birds don’t like the taste!

It is advisable to drill ventilation holes in the nest box. A mixture of peatmoss and sawdust, or kitty litter is an effective nest medium. It is wise to monitor the period before egg-laying to ensure the foundation upon which the eggs are laid is compact.

Although kakarikis are dry-nesters, it is wise to replace the nest medium between each round of young or supply an additional nest box to allow the female to commence her next round of eggs while the male attends to feeding the current fledglings.

How to Feed Kakariki Parakeet

How to Feed Kakariki Parakeet

Many seed-eating birds are reared every year on a basic dry-seed diet of the smaller seeds, such as panicum, white and Japanese millets, canary seed and grey sunflower. However, my kakarikis when breeding showed a preference for sunflower seed almost to the exclusion of smaller seeds. They also enjoyed other foods such as greenfood, livefood, soaked seed, as well as a mixed dry seed diet. However, during the 1980s my colleague Warwick Remington remarked, ‘My experience with the kakariki and its feeding habits is one of confusion. The birds I have kept don't seem to favour any particular type of food. If this species has access to an earthen floor they will use their long legs to scratch shallow holes in search of livefood in the form of earthworms and beetles’.

With great joy, the kakariki will flick seed from hoppers or seed trays, so it is wise to use ones that have a good depth.

Most are fond of apple, and I fed this to mine every day all year-round. Some breeders offer livefood in the form of mealworms, which are taken readily, others supply plain cake and wholemeal bread. I gave mine all forms of kitchen scraps—potato and apple peelings, bits of lettuce, broccoli and other vegetables. My birds were incredibly fond of cos lettuce.

Wild green food, such as milk thistle, dandelion and cape weed is relished and, when available, were also provided. Because the diet of the kakariki in the wild is varied, and includes a high protein content, captive birds need items such as hawthorn berries, cotoneaster berries and flower petals (eg rose petals), and seeding grasses.

My birds relished Callistemon blossom.

I showed an avicultural friend, who did not include flowers and blossoms in the diet of his kakarikis, how much they enjoy such items. When he arrived, I went to the garden, picked a flower and placed it in the kakariki aviary. The pair immediately came to feed on it: my friend was impressed!

In 1994, a Melbourne bird keeper wrote to the Wellington Zoo enquiring about the kakariki species and some of their behaviour. Ron Goudswood, the senior keeper, offered the advice, ‘A layer of dead leaves on the ground in your aviary will help encourage insects. Collecting leaf litter (dead leaves) to put in the aviary regularly will be even better’.

Fine shellgrit and cuttlefish bone should be available at all times, and crushed baked or microwaved eggshells can be provided ‘fresh’ on a regular basis.

Clean water must be provided as this species enjoys bathing. A large water vessel is essential.

How to Breed Kakariki Parakeet

How to Breed Kakariki Parakeet

The clutch of 4–9 white eggs is usually laid on alternate days. Incubation takes 18–21 days, with the female commencing incubation around the third or fourth day.

The male doesn't enter the nest while the female is incubating, preferring to just feed the female who, in turn, feeds the nestlings.

Newly hatched chicks have white down which soon changes to grey, except for the white spot on the nape already mentioned. It is this grey down that attracts the heat. It is unlike the white down of Australian parrots, to meet their completely different natural climatic conditions. Young fledge between 5–6 weeks after hatching and are fed by the parent birds for another week or so.

As the young are susceptible to the extreme heat of an Australian summer, it is often necessary to cool the aviary with a fine spray of water. Despite the extra attention required during hot conditions, it is well worthwhile when the young fledge successfully and grow into fine adult birds.

If young are left in the same aviary for some time after they have fledged, it is wise to ring them (especially if the parent birds are not rung). This allows the fastdeveloping young to be easily identified from the female parent. The ideal leg ring is the Neophema size.

Kakarikis are normally prolific breeders in captivity. In Parrots: Their Care and Breeding, Rosemary Low states that at the time when ‘it was an offence to keep native birds…permits were issued to a few New Zealand aviculturists to enable them to keep Red and Yellow-fronted Kakarikis.

In 1958, a census showed that there were 103 Red-fronted Kakarikis in collections in New Zealand; they bred so well that six years later the total had risen to 2500’.

Kakarikis exhibit pride in their youngsters and much care and concern for them. English aviculturists Dulcie and Freddie Cook recalled when ‘one cock Yellow-fronted even fed his young while they were being held in our hands’.

Keeping the Species Pure

Several mutations have appeared in international aviculture, including Parblue, Pied, Cinnamon and Yellow, but I do not have the knowledge to comment on the potential for those interested.

As Red-fronted and Yellow-fronted Kakarikis are closely related, they should never be paired with each other or housed together, to avoid any chance of hybridising. On one occasion when I advertised kakarikis for sale, I received a phone call from a person who expressed his delight in breeding ‘Orangecrowned Kakarikis’. I was appalled. He was deliberately mating Red-fronted to Yellow-fronted Kakarikis, and was going to continue to breed his so-called ‘Orangecrowned Kakarikis’. These species should be kept pure at all times.

Personality and Behaviour

Kakarikis are an extremely inquisitive parrot. Anything new placed in the aviary is inspected immediately. I’ve had birds come up to me and fiddle with the shoelaces in my shoes. They scratch in the soil or leaf litter on the aviary floor with their legs sideways in the same way as domestic poultry.

As mentioned, they ‘walk’ up wire mesh using only their feet, and upside down under a wire mesh roof. One breeding male used to come to me at the wire front of the aviary as soon as he was nesting, asking for offerings of seeding grass etc. He had not been handreared or treated differently to any of his nest mates, yet when he wanted the extra tid-bits, he let me know!

Care needs to be taken once the young fledge, as the male will occasionally attack one or more of the youngsters. I don’t know why this occurs but as soon as they are feeding themselves, I remove young birds to another aviary.

The piercing red eyes of the Red-fronted or the orange-and-red eyes of the Yellow Kakariki are clear indicators that they can become aggressive to other birds.

From my experience, they should only be housed one pair per aviary without any cohabitants.

The first time I sold a kakariki, the bird was placed in a small aviary that measured approximately 2.5m x 2m x 2m, and it was the only inmate. However, on a later occasion, I transported one bird in a carry-box for the 150km trip to the same, keen suburban breeder. On arrival, I was shown the aviary containing three or four kakarikis in which she wanted the new bird placed. Against my better judgement, I liberated her new kakariki into this community aviary and all hell broke loose.

The inmates were ferocious, attacking the intruder. Within minutes I entered her aviary and removed the relieved bird, which was then placed in a suitable cage inside the new keeper’s home.

Kakarikis have several ‘chattering’ communication calls. They call to one another from one aviary to the next— another aspect of their inquisitive nature.

One or more calls are of a musical nature—pleasant to listen to. Interestingly, my neighbour bought a green parrot as a pet for $20 without knowing what it was. She trained it as you would a pet Budgerigar and it quickly settled into life as a contented active kakariki with ‘Budgie-speak’ conversations!


Red-fronted and Yellow-fronted Kakarikis are delightful medium-sized green parakeets that are easy to maintain and breed. I hope these notes might encourage more readers to keep this amazing parrot as it is the ‘quintessence of avicultural excellence’.

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