Introducing the Antipodes Island parakeet and the Reischek’s parakeet
Written by Finlay Cox on Antipodes Island
Antipodes Island Parakeet
The Antipodes Island Parakeet is endemic to the Antipodes Islands. It is common throughout the Antipodes Islands, particularly in areas of tall dense tussocks and sedges on slopes and along streams. The population is estimated to be approximately 2000-3000 birds, less abundant than the other endemic parakeet – Reischek’s parakeet.
The Antipodes Island parakeet has one of the most unlikely back stories of any New Zealand bird. It was named by the artist, illustrator and poet Edward Lear (1812-1888). Lear’s first publication, at the age of 19, was Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots. In this volume, Lear illustrated and named the green parrot that was held at the London Zoo. No-one knew where the bird had come from, and it was another 55 years before Captain Fairchild of the New Zealand government steamer Stella solved the riddle, discovering that Lear’s ‘Platycercus unicolor Uniform Parakeet’ came from Antipodes Island!
The largest and most robust of all the Cyanoramphus parakeets (approx 130 g), the Antipodes Island parakeet has uniformly green plumage that lacks the crown colouration typical of the rest of the genus. It has a very large bill and broad, rounded wings. They are inquisitive and often attracted to human activity. As seen in Pete the cook’s photo.
They display strong seasonal and interannual dietary preferences for leaves and seeds supplemented seasonally with flowers, seeds, berries, carrion and flesh from grey-backed storm petrels. Invertebrates are a minor component of the diet. The birds forage extensively on the ground.
Interestingly – as seen in the video, carrion makes up part of their diet. The Antipodes parakeets partially fill the scavenging niche – taking advantage of leftover protein on carcasses of petrels hunted by skua and dead penguins amongst the many colonies on the island.
Greene, T.C.; Miskelly, C.M. 2013. Antipodes Island parakeet. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
Reischek’s parakeet is endemic to the Antipodes Islands. It is common throughout the Antipodes Islands, particularly in more open areas and coastal fringes close to penguin colonies. The population is estimated to be approximately 4000-5000 birds.
They are named after Austrian ornithologist and taxidermist Andreas Reischek, the first scientist to visit the Antipodes Islands. He was a passenger on the Stella and called in to Antipodes Island in February 1888.
The Reischek’s parakeet is smaller than the uniformly green Antipodes Island Parakeet. It looks very similar to other ‘red-crowned’ parakeets of NZ mainland. But appearances can be deceiving, genetic studies show that crown colour is not a good indicator of parakeet relationships, as the orange-fronted parakeet may be the closest relative of Reischek’s parakeet.
Consumption of leaves, flowers, berries and seeds from 14 plant species has been recorded. Invertebrates are a minor component of the diet. Reischek’s parakeets occasionally scavenge from corpses of petrels and albatrosses, but not as frequently as Antipodes Island parakeets. Reischek’s parakeets forage extensively on the ground and in winter search for insects amongst the penguin guano when penguin colonies are empty.
Greene, T.C. 2013. Reischek’s parakeet. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz