Kea Parrot Care Sheet

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Scientific Facts

Common Name:Kea
Scientific Name:Nestor notabilis
Life Span:Up to 50 years in captivity
Size:19 inches
Habitat:Alpine, lowland, coastal forests, forests
Country of Origin:New Zealand

Kea Information

The Kea is a larger type of parrot that can be found in the South Island of the country of New Zealand. These birds are mostly found in forests and alpine regions and are regarded as the only alpine parrots in the entire world. These parrots were once common to see in the wild but have now decreased in number due to how they were killed by sheep farmers who believed that they attacked livestock. They are listed as a threatened species and have been under the full protection of the New Zealand government since 1986.

Physical Description

The Kea is a large species of parrot that can measure more than a foot and a half in terms of its height. In some cases, these birds can even weight a heavy as about 2 lbs or about a kilogram. In that regard, they are typically a lot larger than some of the other species of parrots.

On top of how Keas are known to be larger types of parrots, they also have large beaks. The upper portion of their beaks sharply curves downwards to make it look like these parrots have hook-shaped beaks. The beaks are typically grayish in terms of appearance but may have streaks of yellow either on the top where the beak starts or at the bottom part of the beak.

The dominant color of the Kea’s feather is usually a dark shade of green. Meanwhile, the colors on the rest of its body may vary depending on the parrot. The outer wing may have colors that are close to a dull kind of blue. Its tail is also bluish and greenish in terms of appearance. There are times when certain types of these parrots are mottled with a grayish color, which can usually be found around the head. However, this color may sometimes be brownish. Meanwhile, the Kea usually have bellies that are either yellowish or brownish or something in between those two colors.

What is so distinct and striking about the Kea is that the underside of its wings has a bright orange color that is so captivating and pleasurable to the eyes. However, you can mostly only see this when you are under it whenever it is flying or whenever it flaps its wings from a stationary position.

Adult Keas have irises that are of a dark shade of brown. Meanwhile, their beaks, eyerings, and legs are almost always gray. And while juvenile Keas resemble their adult counterparts, they usually come with beaks, eyerings, and legs that are more striking and are yellowish and orange in color but may also have streaks of gray. The gray colors will become more pronounced as the Kea ages.

Sex plays a big role in the Keas appearance. Males are known to be the larger variety of Keas as they are observed to be larger than females. However, the size difference is not always pronounced or obvious as the male is observed to be only 5% bigger than the female. In that regard, there may be some females that are larger than the males. The beaks of males are also observed to be about more than 10% longer than that of the females’.


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The Kea is known to very unique in the sense that they are very inquisitive and intelligent parrots that are not afraid to learn more about what is happening around them or more about the different things surrounding them. In that regard, these birds are not afraid to interact with humans and with other animals (often in dangerous levels, in some extents). They are known to be quite cocky in the sense that they are confident types of birds. However, the confidence and strength of these large parrots have led to a quite complicated type of relationship with humans over the past 150 years.

There has long been a belief that the Kea parrot preys on sheep. During the 1860s, there have been reports that showed that sheep in New Zealand consistently had wounds on their sides. It was then reported that there was a sighting of a Kea attacking a sheep. Since then, sheepherders began to believe that Kea naturally attacks and prey on livestock such as sheep and is most active during the winter while they are less active during the summer and are more likely to attack those with thicker fleece than those that are still in the early stages of their lifespan.

As time passed and others remained unconvinced about the Kea’s feeding habits on sheep, people began to notice that this parrot was more likely to attack dead sheep or those that are injured or weak out of the belief that they are dead. However, during the 1990s, an assault by a Kea on a healthy sheep was caught on video. This proved that the Kea does attack sheep but are not necessarily preying on them but are much more inclined to use their sharp and hook-like beaks to tear through wool and flesh to cut fat from livestock. They do not attack the sheep to kill them, but this has led to injuries that have caused weakness and even death.

Because of that, sheepherders and the Kea have had a relationship that is quite complicated. Herders began to cull these birds for the purpose of protecting their livestock. As such, Kea populations began to dwindle. This has led the New Zealand government to brand the Kea as a bird as fully protected as there still is not a clear reason as to why they attack sheep.

Other than how confident the Kea is when it comes to its interaction with livestock and with humans, they are observed to have a pretty intelligent approach to the way they do things. If they are not using their beaks to tear through wool and flesh, they are great at using everything at their disposal and even creating tools to use for the extraction of food. There are times when these birds would band together for the common good, especially when there is food involved. To that end, scientists have regarded the Kea as one of the more intelligent species of birds.

Another personality that is commonly observed from these parrots is their clown-like personality. They are unafraid of making any mischief in the sense that they are a lot similar to monkeys. Keas will steal food from humans and are fond of all kinds of antics. That is why these screeching birds are often called the “clown of the mountains.” When interacting with tourists, they will inspect bags and unique items they are not used to seeing and will even fly off with small things that they find to be interesting.

Known to ban in groups of about 13 or so, they leave locals unhappy because of the damage to property they often cause. They will peck away on unguarded clothes and will even pull soft and rubbery parts of cars and bags apart. In that case, they really are not the ideal types of birds when it comes to human interaction, as most incidents between them and locals or tourists usually do not end well. In the past and before they were protected by the New Zealand government, it was common for people to kill them on the spot, especially when they cause any sort of mischief or inconvenience. Nevertheless, this has not decreased the Kea’s willingness to try to interact with humans as it is quite trusting around them.

Life Span

Keas are known to be able to reach a lifespan of more than 50 years when kept in captivity. However, since it is now illegal to keep them as pets due to their endangered status, Keas are very unlikely to be found in captivity except for those that are purposely kept to conserve the numbers of these birds. As such, it is now difficult to gauge how long they will live under human care. Nevertheless, it is believed that these birds have a lifespan that is naturally shorter when they are left in the wild due to how they will be more susceptible to illnesses, infections, and even death at the hands of inconvenienced humans.

About 10% of the existing Kea population is believed to be at least 20 years old. Meanwhile, the oldest living Kea is over 50 years old. It is very common to see Kea dying in their first year as the mortality rate for these birds is pretty high when they are still young.


The one thing that researchers are sure of after observing the Kea’s reproductive behavior is that the males are not monogamous. During the breeding season, it is very common to see a male Kea breeding with multiple female partners. In that regard, the Kea is polygamous, especially if there is a surplus of females in their group. And since the Kea prefers to live in a group than to keep itself isolated, it will be very common to see males moving from one female to another during the breeding season. These birds are very social and will always respond better when they live in a group of about 13 Keas.

Kea breeding and nesting areas are often in forests and near the steep areas of mountains. They also prefer to breed in high-elevation places and are often nesting in areas that are at least 5,200 feet above sea level. They can be found nesting on the ground, burrows, and crevices between rocks instead of on treetops or on branches. Kea’s brooding period usually lasts for up to 94 days. However, the mortality rate is pretty high among Kea chicks, as more than half usually perish in their first year.


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The Kea is a very social bird. When kept in the wild, it will almost always be around other birds of its kind and will more than likely live in groups of 13 Kea because of how social this bird is. In captivity, it is observed that the Kea does not do particularly well but will respond well to mirror images of other Kea. To that end, Keas that are legally kept in captivity usually live with other Keas.

Because the Kea is a very social parrot, it often does not do well around humans. They are very inquisitive and are not afraid to try to investigate different things out of curiosity. Tourists often find themselves getting pestered by curious Keas that are confident enough to check their bags and observe things they are not too familiar with. And if the Kea likes what it sees, it will not hesitate to fly away with it. At times, they may even damage human property and can leave scars and other things damaged due to how inquisitive they are.

Called the clown of the New Zealand mountains, the Kea is quite mischievous and will do certain acts not only because of how inquisitive it is but only for entertainment purposes. That is why people and other animals alike find this bird to be quite pestering and annoying. However, Kea is quite intelligent and often works with fellow Keas to reach a common goal, especially when food is involved in the situation.

Keas, especially the juvenile ones, usually form groups in the wild and can cause mayhem and destruction in their wake because of their mischievous and highly social nature. These groups are sometimes called gangs because of how they cause nothing but trouble when left alone in the wild and when they are interacting with locals and tourists alike. And what makes them dangerous is that they have some of the sharpest beaks in the animal kingdom.

The inquisitive and mischievous nature of the Kea has made it one of the more controversial birds in the world as tourists, locals, and sheepherders have all contributed to the quelling of this parrot’s numbers over the past few years. In the past, locals did not hesitate to kill Keas, but these birds are now under the full protection of the New Zealand government as it has fallen under the endangered list due to how quick its numbers were declining.

In captivity, the Kea requires to be given a lot of different toys because of its playful, mischievous, and often destructive personality and behavior. You can keep them away from their destructive nature by giving them toys they can chew on. The Kea is also smart enough to be given puzzle toys. In that regard, this keeps them busy and distracted enough to prevent them from destroying anything they can put their beaks on.

The Kea is also perfect for day sleepers because they tend to be semi-nocturnal in the sense that they stay awake during a good part of the evening due to how they commonly hunt for prey at night. Night sleepers might find them annoying because they can be quite noisy whenever they are active. However, the Kea generally is not raucous enough to cause noise that is too annoying and irritating. They are more likely closer to being chatterboxes than actual noise machines.

Eating Habits

The Kea is an omnivorous bird that will most likely eat anything it can. Its diet consists of a wide range of different types of food and is more than likely to be opportunistic whenever possible just so it can fill its belly. In fact, studies have shown that Kea’s diet is so wide that it consists of over 200 different types of natural food. This does not include anything unnatural they eat whenever they scavenge human items for anything they can eat. In the wild, Kea will eat different types of meat and vegetables.

When it comes to their nature of eating meat, they will most likely feed on invertebrates such as beetles, grasshoppers, and ants and their larvae. They have even become very controversial birds because of their carnivorous nature. The Kea has been observed to leave injuries on sheep due to how they like feeding on the fat and on the flesh of livestock. In the past, it was believed that they only try to feed on weak and injured sheep, but they have since been observed to also target healthy livestock. Using their sharp and hook-like beaks, these parrots are big and strong enough to tear through wool and flesh to eat the fat off of sheep. While they are not known to kill sheep, they leave wounds so deep and serious that they can cause infections that can possibly become fatal.

The Kea is also observed to eat their fellow birds so long as they are smaller than they are. This parrot will eat chicks and eggs of smaller bird species. They also are not afraid to hunt and prey on smaller mammals. As opportunistic as it is, the Kea will also eat carrion or carcasses of dead animals. They will even eat animals they perceive as dead because of how weak or injured they are. In that regard, they will try to eat the fat off of weak or dead livestock or hunted mammals such as sheep and deer.

When eating vegetation or any kind of non-meat type of food, the Kea is observed to be fond of roots, leaves, flowers, seeds, fruits, shoots, and nectar. They are known to eat over 200 different kinds of plant species that are native to their habitat.

The Kea is also opportunistic enough to take advantage of the presence of humans. They are not afraid of pestering humans and even looking into the bags of tourists just to find something they can eat. The Kea will not hesitate to grab anything it perceives as edible and will fly away as soon as it can. They use their beak and will work as a group to try to access all sorts of man-made resources such as farms and even rubbish dumps. At times, they will even use human items as tools to try to look for food.

All that said, it will not be difficult to find something for the Kea to eat as these parrots are very receptive to anything edible regardless of whether it is natural or not. However, when you see a Kea in the wild, try not to offer them food as it is highly discouraged by the New Zealand government that you feed these birds.

Kept in captivity, it is easy to feed Keas because they are quite receptive to any kind of food. It might be best to go for grain or for vegetables when feeding them. Rice, corn, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and pigeon food make for good meals for your Kea. However, if you want to supplement their diet with protein and fat, you may want to give them mice from time to time but not to the point of making it a staple part of their diet. But, if you want, cooked meat is the better option to prevent parasites and other forms of infections. Fruits can also be a good idea as they are quite receptive to berries, oranges, and bananas.


The Kea is similar to any other type of bird in the sense that it requires to take a drink of fresh and clean water on a daily basis. Due to how active this parrot can be, it may even need to drink water more often than other birds. In the wild, they may access their water from different sources such as puddles, rainwater dripping on leaves, small ponds, and even rivers. In captivity, it is best to keep a clean container of water either in the form of a dish or of a dispenser. They require to be given a fresh and clean batch of water to avoid any sort of water-borne infection and to make sure they stay hydrated.


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Technically, it is illegal to own a Kea parrot as a pet because these birds are considered endangered and are under the full protection of the New Zealand government. Nevertheless, there are stringent processes one needs to undergo in order to secure a license to actually own a Kea as a pet and to keep one in captivity. Today, there are only about 65 Keas in captivity and are owned by 20 license holders. Again, this is due to how the numbers of these parrots are declining. In that case, if you feel like you are willing to be a license holder so that you can allow these birds to propagate well in captivity, you need to show that you can provide it with a good habitat.

For starters, it is essential that you keep a Kea in a cage that is big enough for parrots of their size. These birds can grow to up to 19 inches in height and are quite big compared to other types of parrots. On top of that, they are intelligent, inquisitive, social, and very active. All that points to the fact that you need to give your Kea a cage that is actually large enough for it to do whatever it needs to do. You may want to use a cage that is about at least 2.5 times the size of the Kea to make sure it has enough room.

Another thing to make sure of when providing your Kea with a good cage is to make sure that it is as securely closed as possible and that only humans should be able to open it. The reason for such is that the Kea is a very intelligent bird, and it could very well be more intelligent than any other parrot on the planet. This bird will make use of anything around it and is inquisitive enough to learn more about its surroundings through observation. On top of that, it is a good engineer and can build things for a common goal. All in all, the cage should not be too easy to open for this smart and very resourceful bird.

Keeping toys in the Kea’s cage can be a good way of making sure it is always preoccupied with something. The Kea is so curious and inquisitive that any kind of toy will probably distract it. Make sure to provide it with a chew toy to prevent it from looking for something to destroy. And to keep its mind working, the Kea can make use of puzzle toys that will allow its natural intelligence to flourish and be put to use. The Kea gets easily bored. In that case, it is very important to make sure that you give it a wide range of activities to do so that you can at least tame its penchant for mayhem and maybe let it use its energy and inquisitiveness to good use.

Keas are extremely social parrots that prefer to stay in groups. In that regard, most license holders own Keas in groups, and it might be too rare to find a license owner with only one Kea. However, since it can be pretty difficult to get your hands on a Kea, you may make use of a mirror image to allow your bird to stay social even when kept in isolated captivity. Studies have shown that they actually respond well to such a practice and are much better off given mirror images than to let them live all by their lonesome.

If you own more than one Kea and you have both a male and a female one, it is better to keep them in a cage that is quite large and to make sure that the conditions of their habitat are suitable enough for breeding. That is because their numbers are on a decline, and it is more than likely that the government will encourage you to try to reproduce Kea parrots.

Availability – Where to Get One?

It is extremely difficult to get your hands on a Kea parrot as they cannot be purchased from your usual pet store due to how stringent the laws are in terms of protecting these endangered birds. Today, there are only about more than 60 Keas in captivity, and there are only 20 license holders owning these birds legally.

And assuming for the sake of argument that the Kea is not an endangered bird, it may be quite difficult to procure them through the ordinary means because of how difficult it is to keep them in captivity due to their large size, destructive nature, intelligence, and overall penchant for mischief and mayhem.

How to Care for a Kea?

Caring for a Kea parrot requires patience and investment on your part. Owning a Kea can be difficult because of how stringent the government is when it comes to protecting them and when it comes to handing out licenses. If you are a prospective license holder, it is of utmost importance that you are aware of what you are doing and have some sort of experience in handling and taking care of different types of birds because you should be able to give the Kea a good home in captivity to allow its numbers to propagate.

For starters, the one thing you may want to focus on when caring for a Kea is to give it a pretty large cage where it can be its usual inquisitive, intelligent, active, and social self. If possible, try to own Keas in groups because of how social these birds are. They may be much more difficult to handle in groups, but they thrive better as such because of their nature as social animals.

The Kea is said to be a bird that is extremely difficult to be kept in captivity as a pet because of how destructive and intelligent they are to the point that they may even become a bit too bothersome for you even when they are in their cage. Some say they are not really appropriate to keep as pets regardless of whether they are protected or not. That is why it is important for you to know what you are doing when taking care of a Kea parrot.

Because the Kea is a very active eater that will not hesitate to eat what you offer them, make sure to feed them in moderation to minimize the risk of having an obese parrot. Try to keep a feeding schedule and see to it that you give them moderate portions. They are omnivores and are better off given a well-balanced diet that consists of grains, greens, fruits, and meat. It is better for you to cook the meat first to minimize bacteria, parasites, and other similar infections.

FAQ Section

What food should I feed my Kea?

Keas are omnivores that are not really picky when it comes to the food they eat. As such, it is a good idea to feed them with grains, fruits, vegetables, and occasional meat.

Are Keas easy pets?

Keas are considered to be very difficult to keep as pets because of their nature as birds that can be quite mischievous, destructive, and very tricky to handle. However, as long as you know what to give them and as long as you have a bit of experience in handling them, it might not be difficult to keep Keas in captivity.

What type of toys should I give my Kea?

As active and as destructive as they are, Keas need all sorts of different toys to make sure that they are distracted and that they keep their intelligent minds active. Chew toys are a must to keep them from destroying their surroundings, while puzzle toys are essential to make sure that your Keas are kept busy and preoccupied.

Are Keas noisy parrots?

Keas are not particularly noisy to the point that they can cause quite a ruckus. However, they are more likely to be active at night and can make noises that can be quite annoying when you are sleeping.

Are Keas capable of talking?

There is a common misconception that all parrots are capable of talking, but that really is not something that is true to all species of parrots. In that regard, the Kea is a parrot that is not capable of talking or of mimicking common human speech and is more likely to make screeching sounds.

Can you own a Kea?

Technically, you are not allowed to own a Kea as a pet in a manner that is as simple as buying them from a pet store. There are stringent rules in place to make sure that only those qualified to own a Kea can keep them in captivity because of this parrot’s status as a protected and endangered bird.

How long do Keas live?

Because the Kea is quelled in the wild due to its mischievous nature, it is expected that they can only live for up to about 5 years. However, in captivity, Keas can live for up to more than 50 years.

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