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KAKARIKIS

Kakarikis in Captivity
An Article by Gillian Willis

1. Description: Kakariki in Maori means "little parrot". These birds are natives of New Zealand. In North America there are two species kept in captivity. These are the:

(a) Red-fronted kakariki (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae). The body is mainly a deep green and it has a crimson forehead, crown and patch behind each eye. There is also a crimson patch on each side of the rump. Flight feathers are a deep blue and the beak is steel blue with a black tip. The adult male is 28 cm in overall length and the female is slightly smaller.

(b) Yellow-fronted kakariki (C.auriceps). The colouring is similar to the red-fronted, but the crown is yellow and there is a crimson band above the cere. They also lack the red patch behind the eye. Adult males are 25 cm in overall length and the females slightly smaller.

2. Housing: Kakarikis are extremely active birds. They love to perform acrobatics and to run upside down across the roof wire. Because their natural habitat is cool , they can be housed outdoors in the Pacific Northwest at latitudes of 49 north so long as they have shelter from wind and sun. Kakarikis are gentle birds and can be mixed with other birds (love birds are an exception) in a non-breeding flight. In the breeding season, however, there should be only one pair per flight since they can become quite aggressive at this time towards other birds.

An outdoor flight of no smaller than 2.5 m long. 2 m high and 1 m wide is recommended.

Indoors, a cage of approximately 1 m square, so long as it has a flat, wire roof, will provide adequate exercise space for a pair of birds. The bird room should be maintained at a maximum temperature of 20C and ideally below 17C since these birds do better in cooler temperatures.

Kakarikis are extremely inquisitive and will explore everything within reach. As a result, they are very prone to accidents. Ensure that there are no sharp edges for the birds to get caught and that their toys are safe. Be aware that kakarikis are great escape artists and look for every opportunity to spread their wings.

3. Feeding: In addition to seed or pelleted diets, a variety of fruit and vegetables are essential to keep kakarikis in good health. Kakarikis are omnivorous and will eat almost anything. My birds eat broccoli, snow peas, corn, cucumber, celery, carrots, yams, apples, grapes, cantaloupe, oranges, cheese, popcorn, hard-boiled eggs, cooked chicken bones and cooked dried beans. They particularly enjoy the seeds of kiwi fruit, strawberries, pomegranates, dried figs and peppers (chili jalapeno, green and red). Meal worms are particularly relished by kakarikis and should be made available to them especially in the breeding season.

Like the larger parrots, they hold food with their feet. They also like to "wash" their food by dunking it in their drinking water.

Because they also like to bathe, a large dish of water should be made available daily.

4. Breeding: Kakarikis in good condition will breed year around producing four clutches per year. Two clutches per year are preferable so as not to exhaust the hen. They should not be allowed to breed over the summer months because of the risk of death from heat stress in the hen and chicks. In North America, kakarikis breed best between November and March.

Kakarikis form strong pair bonds, and in captivity, appear to pair for life.

Kakarikis mature at an early age and may want to go to nest while they are still babies. I had one male successfully father chicks at 4.5 months of age and a hen who was soliciting to mate at 3 months of age. If possible, the hen should be about 12 months of age before being allowed to breed.

In my experience, I have found the wooden cockatiel nest box of 10" x 12" x 12" to be suitable. Use 1.5" to 2" of pine shavings in the bottom. Less shavings may be necessary for hens who like to bury their eggs.

Eggs are usually laid on alternate days but this can vary. An average clutch is 7 eggs but can be greater.

Incubation time is usually 19 to 21 days, however I have had chicks hatch after 25 days. The eggs are incubated by the hen but the male may sit beside her in the nest box.

Because kakarikis are an endangered species, it is the responsibility of aviculturists not to breed hybrids and to keep the red and yellow-fronted kakarikis as separate species.

5. Chick development: Newly-hatched chicks are covered in thick, grey down and lay on their backs when being fed by the parents. After about a week, a white patch of down appears at the back of the head. This is not visible when the chicks are fully feathered at 4 weeks of age. Eyes open at around 10 days. The chicks fledge at about 5 weeks and are independent at 8 weeks of age.

6. Repeat clutching: Hens will commonly begin to lay another clutch before the chicks have left the nest, At this times the chicks are vulnerable to feather-plucking and mutilation and may have to removed from the nest to be fostered under another hen or to be hand-fed.

A hen in good health may raise a second clutch, but repeat clutching is not recommended because it will weaken the hen and may prove fatal.

7. Health: Kakarikis given a good diet, adequate exercise and kept in a non-stressful environment can live for up to 16 years and reportedly breed into their 12th year. Kakarikis may die suddenly for no apparent reason. Sudden deaths are usually associated with a stressful event such as clipping nails, giving medications, capturing an escapee or an accident.

A non-fatal stressful event can produce a shock-like state. They may be frozen on the spot, loose control of their leg muscles, have spasms and have a fixed staring expression. if this occurs, place the bird in a warm, dark hospital cage and keep him quiet. The bird will usually recover within 30 minutes

Because of inbreeding, some kakarikis have weak hearts. The adrenaline released during stress may cause their little hearts to beat irregularly leading to their death. To minimize the risk of sudden deaths, breeders should try to introduce new blood into his stock, to breed only unrelated birds and not breeding closely related or substandard birds.

8. Kakarikis as pets: Kakarikis are not noisy and are suitable for apartments and indoor aviaries. They are naturally friendly and love human attention. However, even hand-fed babies will not sit on your shoulder for more than a few seconds before darting off to get into some more mischief. Because of their delightful personalities, antics and constant activity, they are a never ending source of entertainment and wonderful birds to have around.

Copyright Gillian A.Willis.
Permission to re-use any part of this text (whole or in part) must be obtained from the author.

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