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KAKARIKIS OR NEW ZEALAND PARAKEETS

May 2004

Kakarikis or New Zealand
Parakeets – pleasant Parakeets

Kurt Fierens, Belgium

with parakeet breeders must be the Cyanoramphus family, namely the Red-fronted Kakariki (Cyanoramphus n. novaezelandiae) and the Yellow-fronted Kakariki (Cyanoramphus a.auriceps) which are the most popular members. There are less well known members as well. In German the Yellow-fronted Kakariki is known as the “Springsittich” and the Red-fronted as the “Ziegensittich”.

YELLOW-FRONTED KAKARIKI

Male: the overall colour is green, with a yellowish green shimmer on the chest, abdomen and underneath the tail. On the crown there is a narrow red band that reaches down to the eyes. The crown is golden yellow. There is a red patch on both sides of the rump. Outer flight feathers are purple-blue. The iris is orange red and the feet are grey. The beak is pale grey with a black point.

Female: slightly smaller than the male, with a rounder head and smaller beak.

Juveniles: as adults but with a paler crown and pale red-brown iris.

Mass: +-55g

Length: +-23cm

Call: not very loud, a little a bleating goat sound.

Character: not destructive; the aviary frames can be wooden. Can be compared with Lorikeets as they are playful, untidy and vivacious. Their call is high and soft, and they make a begging sound during feeding.

Natural colour mutations: The Orange-fronted Kakariki (previously described as Cyanoramphus malherbi), is now accepted as colour variant of the Yellow-fronted Kakariki. Its main difference lies in the orange colour of the head band which is red in the Yellow-fronted. Furthermore these birds have orange patches under the lower back instead of red. This bird is not a cross, as some people believe, between the Yellow-fronted and the Red-fronted.

Distribution: The Yellow-fronted Kakariki is found on the southern and northern islands of New Zealand; a few small peninsulas and the Auckland islands. The Orange-headed Kakariki is on Stewart; near Hope River in the north of the Canterbury district.

Subspecies: There is one sub specie Cyanoramphus a. forbesi, similar to C.a.auriceps but the red frontal band does not reach the eye. The under belly feathers are much lighter and the bird is a little bigger. It is 25 long and at present there are still a few to be found on the islands Mangere and Little Mangere.

RED-FRONTED KAKARIKI

Description of male: overall feather colour is green. The green has a yellow-green shine on the chest, abdomen and under tail feathers. The forehead and crown are red and there is a red eye line behind the eye. They have a red patch on both sides of the rump. Outer flight feathers are blue-purple. The iris is red, feet grey and the beak is light grey with a black tip.

Female: slightly smaller with rounder head and smaller beak.

Juveniles: as adults but with paler forehead, less red on the forehead and a pale red-brown iris. The tail is shorter.

Mass: +-60g

Length: 27cm

Distribution: The southern and northern islands of New Zealand; some small peninsulas as well as the Auckland islands.

SUBSPECIES OF THE RED-FRONTED

1. Cyanoramphus n. cyanurus

2. Cyanoramphus n. chathamensis

3. Cyanoramphus n. hochsteteri

4. Cyanoramphus n. erythrotis (extinct since 1890)

5. Cyanoramphus n. cooki (Norfolk Island Parakeet, classified separately by other authors)

6. Cyanoramphus n. subflavescens (extinct since 1870)

7. Cyanoramphus n. saisseti (New Caledonian Parakeet, classified separately by other authors)

[Ed: The other authors we refer to above are Juniper and Parr, and their 1998 work “Parrots – a guide to the parrots of the world”. The subspecies differ slightly in size, colouration and distribution.]

SOCIETY PARAKEET, BRAUNKOPFLAUFSITTICH (CYANORAMPHUS ULIETANUS)

The male’s head is black-brown and the neck a little paler. Back and wings are brown, lower back and tail feathers brown-red. Outer flight feathers grey-blue. Chest, abdomen and under tail feathers olive yellow, central tail feathers olive brown. Iris probably orange, feet grey brown. Beak pale grey with black tip. Female probably differs from male in the same way as the previously described two species. Length is 25cm. Before they became extinct in 1773 they were found on the island of Raiatea, one of the Society Islands. ANTIPODES PARAKEET, EINFARBLAUFSITTICH (CYANORAMPHUS UNICLOR)

Overall body colour green. Chest, abdomen yellow-greenish as are the under tail coverts. Outer flight feathers are blue-purple. Iris is orange and feet grey. Beak is pale grey with black tip. Juveniles resemble adults. They are 30cm long and live mostly on the coastal cliffs of the Antipodes, which are not inhabited by people. They live alone or in pairs or in small groups of 5 birds out of the breeding season. On the Antipodes they eat Poa grass and seed, berries, carcasses of penguins and other birds. In the wild they live in holes under shrubbery. These birds are only kept in captivity in New Zealand where they may only be bred if the natural population is endangered. Because their habitat is so limited, they are susceptible to diseases. Sudden deaths occur for unknown reasons. That is most likely why these birds are not found in collections in Europe. The birds are very active and make a noise that can only be compared to a bleating goat. Breeding in captivity seems to be quite successful, but the breeding of indigenous birds in New Zealand is subject to strict legislation which means that as long as birds are not endangered, captive breeding is not permitted. All eggs have to be destroyed. I hope there is a chance that European breeders can breed these birds one day.

BLACK-FRONTED PARAKEET, TAHITI-LAUFSITTICH (CYANORAMPHUS ZEELANDICUS)

These birds from Tahiti have been extinct since 1844.

AVIARIES

I give my birds aviaries that are 2-3m long, 1m wide and 2m high. They also breed well in small cages of 1m x 50cm x 60cm but I prefer them to have all the advantages of a larger aviary. I cover one part of the floor with sand and the other part with cement. This helps with keeping the aviary neat and tidy, which is necessary with these birds as they love to pay and dig in the sand, although they are not destructive and do not chew wood.

NEST BOXES

It is good to use a square wooden nest box of 20cm x 20cm x 30cm or else a natural log. The entrance hole needs to be +-6cm in diameter. After the nest has been disinfected thoroughly with a safe disinfectant that has been recommended by your veterinarian, the nests can be hung up. Kakarikis differ greatly from other parakeets in that they need to be given more than one nest box. They are not fussy, but they need 2 or even 3 nests. One is for the male to sleep in, one for the female to use and the third for the female to lay again once her previous clutch is fully feathered. I opt for a +-5cm layer of turf as nesting material. The nests need to be cleaned after each clutch to prevent the spreading of diseases.

BREEDING

Firstly I must say the Kakarikis are birds that breed easily. And yet is happens that they do not breed in some aviaries. Perhaps this has something to do with the following reasons I have experienced:

I prefer birds to choose their own partner rather than having a mate forced upon them. I put at least 3 pairs of Kakarikis in a spacious aviary (7m x 1m x 2m) and let them choose their own mate. That gives them a great advantage and most of the birds that pair up in this manner make very good breeding pairs. When I notice that two birds have paired up, I put them in their own aviary. If the remaining birds have not yet chosen a mate, one can add two more single birds or else sell the rest. There is nothing wrong with them, they just have not found their mate or else they are not ready for breeding. Anyway, nature does not produce any bad birds; every bird can breed. It is human error which, known or unknown, prevents birds from breeding.

All my breeding pairs of Kakarikis are housed in close proximity to each other. This stimulates the need to settle down. Never put a second pair of Kakarikis together with a settled pair in their aviary because it will lead to fighting. If you do not have a spacious aviary in which to put a number of birds for pairing up, do not worry. House pairs separately so that they can hear and see each other. If a pair does not breed, change the males around. This is another way which can encourage breeding. Colony breeding is also possible. I have tried it successfully. Make sure there are enough nestboxes. Kakarikis can also be housed in mixed species aviaries, although many breeders say it does not work because they are so inquisitive. I have been breeding successfully with 4 pairs for 5 years in 4 different mixed aviaries. In each aviary I have one pair of Kakarikis with other peaceful species, like Polytelis, Neophema Grass parakeets and Cockatiels. The only important thing to take not of is that there are enough nest boxes. I even have a large aviary with 5 pairs of Cockatiels, I pair of Budgerigars and one pair of Kakarikis. All these birds breed here and do not fight. The only thing I have to look out for is that all the entrance holes to the nests must be at the same height, except for the grass parakeet nest. This is hung up the highest and has a smaller entrance hole. Never put more than one pair of grass parakeets with other birds and keep a watch over them. Grass parakeets are real fighters and will kill whole nests of chicks if they choose to live in that particular nest. They do not care if another bird has moved in there before them.

Kakarikis breed all year long without a break. Some breeders take the nest boxes out in winter because they believe that is right. I let mine hang summer and winter. Some Kakarikis breed better in winter than in the hot summer. They seem to resist the cold much better than the heat of the summer. If it is very warm (from 25°C upwards) it may be necessary to open the nest boxes. If necessary, put the nest boxes on the ground. On hot days proper ventilation must be provided. If not, chicks may suffocate from the heat. One lesson I like repeating, is that in Nature they will do as they see fit, and they will decide when to stop. If however you have decided to take out the nest boxes, it may happen that they take exception to it and stop breeding for a while. Our Kakarikis produce large clutches. One of them had eleven fertile eggs out of which they raised eleven healthy chicks. Another advantage of Kakarikis is their fostering ability. They are as good as the Red-rumped. I have had better fostering experience with Kakarikis than with Red-rumped. Kakarikis will raise Platycercus (Rosellas), Barnardius (Port Lincoln, Barnard’s) and Psephotus (Red-rumped, Hooded, Golden-shouldered) together with their chicks or on their own. Take care however not to overburden them with fos ter chicks. The Alisterus (Amboina King), Polytelis (Barraband’s, Princess of Wales, Rock Pebbler) and Aprosmictus (eg. Crimson-winged) species are only raised for eight days. This is because from day 8 these birds stretch out their necks to be fed. This is a characteristic that scares off the Kakarikis and then they stop feeding. Kakarikis will also rear the Poicephalus species (Jardine’s, Ruppell’s, Meyer’s etc) right till independence, together with their own.

HYGIENE

Kakarikis are messy parakeets. They waste heavily when they eat and drink. They bath daily, they dive into their food dish and spill at least a quarter of it. This means that regular cleaning is necessary.

CARE

For a seed mix I prefer a mixture of several types of millet, canary seed, kempsaad (Ed: possibly hemp), Niger, hulled oats, paddi rice, small sunflower, buckwheat and a little sunflower. Only while they have chicks in the nest they get a handful of sunflower every day. They do like fruit (apple, orange, paprika, banana, grapes, rosehips etc) and vegetables.

During breeding in the colder months I give them extra sunflower for its fat content. Two weeks before mating commences I give extra hemp to put them in breeding mood.

My birds get sprouted seed three times a week and fresh water every day.

In the breeding season my birds get a mixture of three types of egg food, white bread crumbs, couscous, brewer’s yeast, vitamins and minerals, which is all moistened with grated carrot or apple. I make sure they have different food every day and they appreciate it very much. I do not change the basic content of my egg food mixture but I change the taste. Every month I give them branches of willow or fruit trees. In every aviary there is a “sepiaschelp” (author: “the white shell that consists of a lot of calcium” Ed: maybe cuttle fish), an iodine block and a grit mixture made up of oyster shell, sharp grit (“scherpe maagkiezel” = also a grit mixture but especially for the stomach) and the classic grit.

BREEDING

Kakarikis breed relatively quickly. They are already mature at 4 months of age. It is best however to let them start at 10-12 months. They can start breeding at any time of the year especially in the colder season. The female lays 4 to 12 eggs and she broods them on her own for 19 days. During this time she leaves the nest only to defecate. After 35 days the chicks leave the nest and after a further 3 weeks they are independent. Independence does not occur straight after they have left the nest, as some breeders state. They can breed all year through or else 2-3 times per year. It depends on the pair. The female goes down again as soon as the chicks begin to get their feathers. The male continues feeding the chicks. It may however sometimes be necessary to move the chicks to another aviary if the father shows aggression towards them.

TIPS

Kakarikis breed well and produce up to 4 clutches per year. Their disadvantage is that they do not live very long, maybe only 5-6 years. Kakarikis also moult severely, that they sometimes end up looking very tatty, have bare heads and loose feathers. It is not an illness, just a phenomenon that occurs in captivity. They may not look so good, but that should not give you enough reason not to want to keep them. They seldom breed in their moulting season.

When buying Kakarikis, here are some of the things to look out for:

– Do not buy Kakarikis of their plumage is not tight against their bodies, or young birds with a short tail and a pale upper mandible. Young birds have a broad tail that does not end in a point. Some people claim that Kakarikis are independent from the time they leave the nest, but I do not sell a bird that has not been independent for at least one month. At that age the bird will be more resistant to disease.

– Observe the birds well. Hold the bird in your hand. If it seems weak, if the breastbone juts out sharply, if the feathers are dirty, if his anal area is dirty, leave him where he is. You will just be looking for trouble. Also look at the droppings: if it is pale, watery or contains undigested seed, the bird is carrying a disease. The droppings should be dark green, with white. Check that the aviaries are in good condition as well as the food and water dishes. Are the birds rung? Young birds are identified by the colour of their iris, which is coloured in older birds.

– Kakarikis with watery eyes have a disease which is transmitted through inbreeding and sooner or later it will cause the bird’s death. They can breed, but the chances are they will pass the eye problem on to their chicks. The disease can also affect other parakeets that may die quite quickly. One trick of checking if a bird has this eye disease is: knock him lightly on the head and if tears come from his eyes then he has this problem. Do not buy this bird or others of the same family. If you do buy from this supplier, please quarantine your birds to prevent infection of your other birds. Newly infected birds can be treated with Doxy vit and it is suggested that all your birds should be given this medication for 8 days so you get rid of it.

– Kakarikis are susceptible to lung infections. A sick bird will sit listlessly on the perch or on the floor. He will not be as thin as a bird that is infected with worms, but his breath is more laboured. The bird can die very soon after the illness has been diagnosed, but often he was carrying the disease for a while already and it has been activated by stress. That is why it is so important not to buy Kakarikis with watery eyes.

– Choose your bird from a pair that has had large clutches. I believe that if you buy from good breeding pairs, your birds will breed sooner and better.

MUTATIONS

There are a number of known mutations, such as

Cinnamon: this is a sex linked mutation. The colour is a light army green colour and they have paler feet.

Fallow: there is a darker and a lighter variety, both with red eyes. The lighter type is more yellow and the darker one more like the cinnamon.

Pied: This is a well known mutation with flecks of yellow here and there all over the body. This can even lead to birds that are nearly completely yellow such as the golden yellow Kakariki.

Blue: This Kakariki is just as blue purple as the flight feathers of a normal bird. Apparently it is already represented in European aviaries.

Lutino: This is a yellow Kakariki with red eyes. It has a recessive inheritance.

Golden Yellow: This is the Pied Kakariki that has by selection been bred to be golden yellow.

Lacewing: this can more or less be compared to the fallow except that the back is dark.

PURITY

I cannot emphasize enough how much attention needs to paid to ensure that the birds remain pure. There are already crossings of Red-fronted and Yellow-fronted Kakarikis offered for sale. This is because people want large Yellow-fronteds, they want the colour mutations of the Yellow-fronted in the Red-fronted and the other way around. These mutations are so easy to recognize and yet people buy the crosses. A Yellow-fronted is clearly smaller than a Red-fronted. If Yellow-fronted are as big as Red-fronted then they are not pure. The first generation can be recognized by red feathers coming through the yellow crown. It can happen that a breeder buts a yellow-fronted and only after the moult sees that the bird is getting a red crown. This is clearly a case of crossing with red-fronted in one of its forefathers. Sooner or later the chicks in the nest will reveal their true identity. Always try to get pure birds! Accept that a Yellow-fronted is smaller than a Red-fronted.

CONCLUSION

I did not want to put you off when I mentioned the types of diseases that Kakarikis can get. Generally they are strong, pleasant, playful, yet untidy birds that anyone would enjoy in their collection. They are great for beginners and advanced breeders.

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