Sex with a parrot anyone?

Recently, I was on Australian radio doing a bit about the phylomon project and one of the creatures that the host brought up was the Kakapo.

As well, an article at the Escapist was just published (again on the phylomon project), and within the comments there, the Kakapo was highlighted once again.

What is it with this bird that delights the imagination of biology enthusiasts? Well, first you have to check out this video, which is maybe one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Anyway, I think Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine describe the kakapo best in their wonderful book, "Last Chance to See":

The kakapo is a bird out of time. If you look one in its large, round, greeny-brown face, it has a look of serenely innocent incomprehension that makes you want to hug it and tell it that everything will be all right, though you know that it probably will not be.

It is an extremely fat bird. A good-sized adult will weigh about six or seven pounds, and its wings are just about good for waggling a bit if it thinks it's about to trip over something - but flying is completely out of the question. Sadly, however, it seems that not only has the kakapo forgotten how to fly, but it has also forgotten that it has forgotten how to fly. Apparently a seriously worried kakapo will sometimes run up a tree and jump out of it, whereupon it flies like a brick and lands in a graceless heap on the ground.

By and large, though, the kakapo has never learnt to worry. It's never had anything much to worry about.

Most birds, faced with a predator, will at least realise that something's up and make a bolt for safety, even if it means abandoning any eggs or chicks in its nest - but not the kakapo. Its reaction when confronted with a predator is that it simply doesn't know what the form is. It has no conception of the idea that anything could possibly want to hurt it, so it tends just to sit on its nest in a state of complete confusion and leaves the other animal to make the next move - which is usually a fairly swift and final one.

In any event, I can definitely see the appeal - it's kind of like you're cheering for the underdog. Plus, look at the image submission we got for the kakapo for the phylomon project (from the talented Diana Sudyka). It's awesome!


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I'm sorry but I can't resist.
But that dang bird is just F'n with his head ;^)

By Fred Magyar (not verified) on 26 Mar 2010 #permalink

So, if they can't fly, can't particularly run, and don't recognize predators, why are they not extinct?

By gray Gaffer (not verified) on 26 Mar 2010 #permalink

Because until recently (read - colonization of NZ by humans and our domesticated entourage), they were fortunate enough to have no predators.

In other news: Daww.

Oh, I am so looking forward to this series. "Last Chance to See" is one of my favorite books of all time, and I can't think of anyone better than Stephen Fry to take Adam's role.

The funny thing is, i'm reminded of a tale of another bird in the book on the Island of Rodrigues with a bird named "Pink", who they would collect semen from by wearing a wide-brimmed had while the bird copulated with a researcher's head.

By Left_Wing_Fox (not verified) on 26 Mar 2010 #permalink

I thought I read Last Chance To See all the way through; how did I manage to skip this?

That poor bird is adorable with its owlish and slightly bemused face.

By Arancaytar (not verified) on 26 Mar 2010 #permalink

Why do artists insist on drawing parrots with chicken-feet?


I can't count how many times I've watched this. The first time I wasn't sure which I was going to do first - spit coffee or pee my pants from laughing. (It was dangerously close to simultaneous and messy. *grin*) Still KillzMeDedFumTehROFLZ⢠every time.


There are, what, 91 of them now? Up from 50 IIRC. I saw something about them on TV the other night. They're now being bred in captivity and raised in a special predator-free area.

OMG now I'm going to be dreaming of big green birds on my head and hearing *FAP*FAP*FAP*FAP*FAP* all night long...


By The Mad LOLSci… (not verified) on 26 Mar 2010 #permalink

Hi, i have to say, there are 123 of them now, we do not breed them in captivity, they live on 2 predator free islands and are wild birds, monitored using VHF radio transmitters. Their mating behaviour precludes them from being force paired or bred in captivity in any way.

By Chris Birmingham (not verified) on 28 Mar 2010 #permalink

I keep wondering why there are other species with the same mating problems-i.e loners, lack of drive, like pandas- who can still be bred in captivity.
It seems a large island island in a lake might be a suitable habitat, just to experiment with a few specimins.
Cats can't swim..

Another point...if the mating ritual is so complicated, how come no preparations or flirting took place before the Mark C.incident? Seems they can experience instant attraction at times!

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