Kākā chick’s death a lesson for bird feeders

9 November 2015

The smallest chick in Wellington’s kākā nest, as seen on kākā cam, has been euthanised after it was identified as having a severe crossbill and was showing signs of weakening.

Kaka being held in hands.

The kākā was removed from the nestbox on Friday morning and assessed before a decision to euthanise was made.

Crossbill is a condition when a bird’s top and bottom bill cross over each other.

The Department of Conservation decided that euthanising the chick was the kindest thing for the bird. Without intervention and left in its current state the deformity would have meant the chick wouldn’t have been able to feed or survive in the wild.

Deformed beaks in chicks are commonly caused by metabolic bone disease which prevents proper underlying bone development. This disease is normally caused by an inappropriate diet of foods such as nuts. It is suspected to be the result of the chick’s parents being fed nuts by the public as these are then regurgitated to feed the young kākā, which prevents them from developing properly.

Myfanwy Emeny, Wellington City Council’s Biodiversity and Urban Ecology Team Leader, says the big lesson from this is that people need to stop feeding kākā nuts, or just to stop feeding them - full stop. “If people feed the kākā they should use fresh fruit as this is safer for them. We don’t want to see any other chicks in this state as it is heartbreaking for all concerned.”

DOC vet Kate McInnes also urges the public to stop feeding kākā harmful foods.

“Kākā need to eat a natural diet to be healthy – when we give them nuts or bread it’s like potato chips and cake – they might love it but it’s not good for them or their chicks.” She recommends planting kaka friendly plants, such as kōwhai, rātā and flax, to attract them to the garden.

She is supported by Wellington Zoo Veterinary Science Manager Dr Lisa Argilla: "We see numerous kākā at our native wildlife centre The Nest Te Kōhanga every year, often presenting with metabolic bone disease caused by an imbalanced diet.

"Kākā chicks and fledglings imprint on humans if they spend a long time in care, so these patients with metabolic bone disease are unable to be returned to the wild. For wild kākā, eating a natural diet is the best option for them to thrive.”

Working with Wellington City Council Urban Ecology team, DOC rangers set up six large ‘pest-proof’ nest boxes in reserves from Karori to Tawa earlier this year. These boxes are monitored by volunteer guardians.

Cameras were installed in the nest boxes allowing the public to watch the movements of the kākā in their natural habitat. Kākā cam, as it has been named, can be found at wellington.govt.nz/kakacam.

With nearly 40,000 views to date from all over the world the live stream of the birds has proved very popular, capturing viewers’ hearts and screens worldwide.

Kākā are a nationally vulnerable threatened species of bird and are rare in lowland forest, so having a self-sustaining population within a city is very special.