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Nation & World

Rare New Zealand Parakeet Population Doubles After 'Epic' Breeding Season

The small bird was believed to have gone extinct, but after a bumper crop of beech seeds this year, conservationists estimate the orange-fronted parakeet population has likely doubled.
The small bird was believed to have gone extinct, but after a bumper crop of beech seeds this year, conservationists estimate the orange-fronted parakeet population has likely doubled.

One of the rarest birds in New Zealand is having its best breeding season in decades, potentially doubling the population.

The orange-fronted parakeet, known locally as the kākāriki karaka, is in the midst of a prolonged mating season after a beech seed bonanza, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said in a statement on Wednesday.

"It is great news that this year there are more than three times the number of nests compared to previous years," Sage said.

She reported at least 150 wild-born chicks so far this season.

The Department of Conservation explained the "epic" lovemaking by the small, green-feathered birds has been spurred by the biggest beech mast in more than 40 years. The native birds subsist on plants and insects, and during a mast year seeds dominate their diet.

"There has been so much seed on the beech trees the birds just keep on breeding with some parakeet pairs onto their fifth clutch of eggs," according to Sage. She noted that in a typical season, the birds have just one or two clutches.

But what's good for the orange-fronted parakeet is also good for the rats, feral cats and stoats — a mammal related to the weasel. The populations of all three have also benefited and pose a serious threat to the birds.

The parakeet was thought to have gone extinct before it was rediscovered in the Canterbury region of South Island 25 years ago. Since then, conservationists have launched multipronged efforts to protect and restore the population, including running captive breeding programs and providing predator control in their habitats.

Sage said 31 nests — three times more than in recent years — have been discovered.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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