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Te Ipukarea Society: Parrot pandemonium- Celebrating the world’s most talkative birds

Saturday 25 May 2024 | Written by Te Ipukarea Society | Published in Environment, National


Te Ipukarea Society: Parrot pandemonium- Celebrating the world’s most talkative birds
Roost of Kura birds. TE IPUKAREA SOCIETY/24052460

Have you ever been under a tree full of parrots, and heard the noise they make? If you have, you would understand why a group of parrots is also known as a pandemonium!

The coming Saturday, the 31st of May, marks World Parrot Day. Since 2004 the World Parrot Trust has led celebrations of these remarkable birds that need protection more than ever before. One-third of all parrot species are currently endangered, making them the birds with the highest aggregate extinction risk when compared to any other bird group. With threats such as habitat loss and pet trade, conservation initiatives are critical for these colourful, charismatic creatures!

The Cook Islands is home to two parrots, the Kura, or Rimatara lorikeet (Vini kuhlii), and the Kuramo’o, Blue lorikeet (Vini peruviana).

The Kura has a very interesting origin story. Fossil evidence suggests that the Kura was native and populous throughout the Cook Islands Southern Group. However, an unfortunate event of extirpation (local extinction) took place. The Kura were harvested for their prized red feathers used for traditional ceremonies, where only the Atiuan ariki wore significant headpieces with the red Kura feathers. The colour red continues to be of great cultural significance to Aitu – their sporting colour remains red.

In 2007, the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, the Ornithological Society of French Polynesia, and the Zoological Society of San Diego were involved with instating a population of Kura on the island of Aitu through the generous sponsorship of Air Rarotonga, Atiu Villas and others. Atiu is one of the few islands without the undesirable ship rat. These rats are competent climbers and therefore pose a risk to various tree-dwelling birds. This was the main reason Atiu was selected as the most appropriate location to transport 27 Kura from Rimatara in French Polynesia.

Unintentionally, shortly after the introduction of birds to Atiu, four Kura spread their wings and made the 50-kilometre flight to the neighbouring island of Miti’aro. Unfortunately, Miti’aro is inhibited by ship rats which likely posed life-threatening danger. Although sighted in 2008, it appears the Kura were unable to reproduce and haven’t been seen on Miti’aro since. There hasn’t been an official population survey recently but current estimates place the population in Atiu at approximately 1000.

The other parrot to call the Cook Islands home is the Kuramo’o. Introduced from Tahiti to Aitutaki around 1830 as a gift to the chiefs of Aitutaki, the Kuramo’o is most commonly seen around banana plots or fruit trees as fruits and flowers are fundamental to their diet. Aitutaki is also not known to have ship rats, this may be the reason the Kuramo’o have thrived there.

Kuramo’o, also known as the Aitutaki Nunbird (due to its blue nun’s habit appearance), has since prospered in Aitutaki. They roost in coconut palms and are often observed feeding on the pollen and nectar of coconut flowers and banana tree buds. The Kuramo’o is a popular resident taking out Manu o te Mataiti 2021 (Cook Islands Bird of the Year) with an impressive 3500 votes.

Join us in celebrating Parrot Day alongside our two avian residents, as there’s a wealth of fascinating tales about them, and they, in turn, have plenty to vocalise!