The boys are a-boomin’ the girls are a-choosin’, and the season is a cruisin’!

Patricia Latas
January 29, 2014 share
Artists for Conservation

There were rumors, late in 2013, that the precious rimu trees might produce a good crop this year. On Whenua Hou, the available rimu mast is what triggers females to have a good breeding season. And indeed, somehow the males are attuned to this chord: the boys were a-boomin' this year!

Kakapos are unique parrots in so many ways, but perhaps the most astonishing is their reproductive behavior. They are lekking species, which means the males are clustered in loose groups and perform a display that is enticing to females. The best performer has the opportunity to spread his genes, if the ladies find his activity to be irresistible.

The amazing Kakapo is unique, even amongst lekking species of birds. The males select high ridges in their territory, and meticulously sculpt bowl-shaped depressions in the ground. These essentially function as the deep resonating body of a stand-up bass.

With the perfect booming bowl, and a lovely night on top of a ridge, with excellent acoustics for low-frequency sound transmission, the male prepares his dulcet song. With great effort, gasping for air, he pumps his body huge with air until he looks like a balloon ready to pop. What is really happening is the thoracic air sacs are inflating.


Then, the concert begins.

The "booom" is difficult to describe, a combination of bass drum, exotic deep percussion instrument, and perhaps blowing across the top of a 5 gallon whiskey jug. But it penetrates the austral nights, and attracts the lovely lady Kakapos from far and wide. Several males compete with booming, and the females stroll around the bowls, assessing the various tunes.

When a lovely lady is nearby, the male then switches to a "Ching" song, higher pitched and designed to pinpoint his location.

The lucky, hot, sexy guy who is the most attractive boomer gets the women. Sometimes, ALL the women! And the women kakapos often choose the same fellow season after season, so there is a bond deeper than just the concert.

Mating is a quite involved affair. This year, Lisa was first out of the bush with lover Blades, in a 47-minute introduction to the 2014 breeding season. And Gulliver the male, booming his heart out, mated for the first time ever with the seasoned female Aranga. A triumph as he has the precious genetics of the last of the mainland Kakapos, Richard Henry. And Gulliver's mom is Flossie, in whom I have a great interest as she was the female I was so privileged to observe.

Yes it is a soap opera, and yes they have "check mate" and cameras and tracking devices.

So boom boom...

And the females go to their favorite nest. The nests have cameras and human minders and recording devices.

This news is so exciting as it means there will very likely be a good crop of chicks this season. There were 33 in 2009, and 11 in 2011. Several adults and youngsters have died in the last few years. So new chicks are absolutely essential to save this bird from complete extinction.

And because of the severe genetic bottleneck, as most kakapos today are from a very restricted population from Rakiura/ Stewart Island, many individuals are weak. The potential loss of significant numbers of individuals in the tiny population is always a threat. The input of Gulliver's genes may mean the survival of the species. Yet another reason that EVERY BIRD COUNTS.

It is my fervent hope that there will be many healthy chicks this year, and that I might witness and record this miracle. Stay tuned!



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