New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands - 2008

where the creatures do “belong” to DOC. We were fortunate enough to see two rock wrens at their nest feeding their little ones. The nest was quite near the roadway actually— the birds had an entire valley filled with rocks so it was peculiar that they chose such a public place! The best sighting here was a group of the cheeky, curious, constantly chewing, comical clown of the NZ avian world—the endemic alpine parrot, the Kea. We had encountered these mischievous and ubiquitous imps when we had done the Milford Track back in 1987. They would light upon your backpacks picking at straps and zipper pulls with their stout beaks. They would divebomb our picnic site, swooping in to snatch our sandwich right from our hand, they stole anything we had sitting out on the table if they could lift it and they are prodigiously strong. But all the while we never become angry because they were so funny and cute! Well, here at Homer Tunnel, we met them again and in 22 years their nature has certainly not changed a bit. They were pecking the rubber on windshield wipers of cars around them. They were cadging snacks from all of us standing around our van. They would stoop to outright thievery if nothing was offered. They would swoop right across the tops of our heads, checking for loose caps to steal. They squawked and bickered like all parrots do. But we were just as amused by their antics as we were years before. The Kea is one of the world’s only alpine parrots and he lives in the high mountains even during heavy winter snows. He has a very strong, down- curved and sharp beak which he uses most intelligently. He can open garbage cans, bird feeders, animals traps, and has a quite logical approach to stubborn obstacles. I saw one move logs placed atop garbage cans so that he could get at the contents. I saw another remove a large piece of wood used as a lock on a bin to retrieve the food inside. They will use tools to attain their ends as well. In appearance, the kea is not brightly colored, more like an olive-gray shade all over the body except at the base of the tail where there is bright orange and on the underside of the wings which is also bright orange to red. The feathers are rather owl-like in their layering pattern. The kea is a large parrot measuring 17- 19 inches from beak to tail.

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