Behold the Return of the Amazing New Zealand “Owl Parrot.” Look at It Dance!

The kākāpō, the world’s fattest parrot, has long been on the verge of extinction. Now it’s making a comeback.

Kākāpō Recovery/New Zealand Government

It’s Sunday, and before we begin another long week, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate some good news we discovered after going down a fascinating recent Twitter hole: the kākāpō, the world’s fattest parrot, long on the verge of extinction, is making a glorious comeback.

Fluffy and flightless, these adorable-looking birds are native to New Zealand and evolved without any mammalian predators, which made them particularly horrible at fending off the cats, rats, and stoats that eventually arrived with European settlers in the early 1800s. By 1900, despite a conservation effort launched by the government, only a few kākāpō remained, according to the country’s conservation department.

Starting in the late 1940s, New Zealand launched missions to locate and preserve the birds, but by the 1970s none were thought to exist. Then, in 1977, a large population of about 200 were found in southern Rakiura, but soon they too were attacked by feral cats. Rats kept eating the baby kākāpō, and by 1995 there were only 51 of the birds left.

The next year, the Kākāpō Recovery Program was launched to keep the parrots from teetering closer toward extinction. It’s a difficult goal, partly because the kākāpō only breed when rimu trees, which produce berries, are full of fruit, which doesn’t happen every year.

And so the recovery team has gone to creative lengths to help them mate: After a kākāpō named Sirocco went viral for attempting to have sex with a zoologist’s head, the team even created a helmet that could collect semen, an experiment that failed to boost the population but successfully garnered more social media buzz around the birds.

In recent years, the number of kākāpō has increased, but they aren’t out of the woods yet: This year they’ve been battling a fatal fungal disease that had killed at least seven as of June, and 36 more (about a fifth of the population) were sent to veterinary hospitals for evaluation.

But the birds are fighters, and this weekend they hit an important milestone: Andrew Digby, a scientific adviser for the recovery effort, tweeted that there are now 200 kākāpō, after the latest chick became a juvenile, old enough to officially be counted. 

There are probably more kākāpō alive now than at any time for ≥70 years,” he wrote. To celebrate the occasion, enjoy this video of Sirocco getting wild, and other cute photos of kākāpō young and old.

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.