The Kura lorikeet now thriving in numbers on Atiu. TIS/23O60202
World Parrot Day celebrated on May 31 gives us a good excuse to bring more attention to a couple of our own brightly coloured lorikeets that come under the parrot family.
Ravishing in red, the Kura, Rimatara
lorikeet (Vini kuhlii) found on Atiu
has an interesting history to tell.
Fossil records confirm these cute
lorikeets were once found on most of the Southern Group islands in the Cook
In colonial times the Kura was prized for
its small red feathers which were used for chiefly embellishments such as the
Atiuan ariki headpieces.
This tradition was also the same for those
chiefs present on Tahiti and Societies Island where the Kura, or Ura as it was
called, was also found.
Captain Cook’s visit in 1770s was the last
oral record of the Kura being present in the Cook Islands.
By the time the missionaries arrived in
the 1820s there was no record of the Kura being observed.
The extirpation of the Kura some 200 years
ago, was largely associated with the cultural demands for their beautiful red
The colour red still stands strong today,
with Atiu’s sports colour also being red.
Having lost the Kura within the Cook
Islands, a collaborative effort was made among the Natural Heritage Trust, Te
Ipukarea Society, The Ornithological Society of French Polynesia and the
Zoological Society of San Diego to reintroduce the Kura back to Atiu where it
was once found.
The translocation of Kura or Ura from
Rimatara, French Polynesia took place in 2007. A total of 27 Kura were
introduced to repopulate the island.
The new red feathery lorikeets to the
island of Atiu were real explorers, and within the first two months of their
arrival, it was found that four Kura had crossed the ditch and flown to the
neighbouring island of Mitiaro, some 50 kilometres away.
Mitiaro is unfortunately home to ship
rats, which are one of the key threats to nesting Kura.
It appears that the new population to Mitiaro
were not able to repopulate, and have not been seen in recent years.
Atiu, fortunately, does not have ship rats
making Atiu an ideal island to reintroduce the Kura.
The Kura, which loves feasting on nectar
from banana trees has not had a comprehensive recent population count.
However, both experienced local and
visiting birders estimate a healthy population in excess of 1000 at the present
Winging across to the Island of Aitutaki
you'll find our second lorikeet being the pretty in blue and white nunbird or
Kurāmo’o (Vini peruviana).
The Kurāmo’o was introduced to Aitutaki
from Tahiti during the time of the missionaries around 1899.
It was believed that the missionaries saw
the small blue and white Vini of Tahiti as the perfect caged gift for the
Today, you are likely to spy a Kurāmo’o
hanging around banana plots, where they love to feed on the sap of the banana
Comparing Tahiti and Aitutaki, it is
believed that Aitutaki now holds the largest Kurāmo’o population.
Like Atiu it is also assumed that Aitutaki
is ship rat-free. Ship rats are known to be more ecologically damaging in
comparison to the Pacific rats which are found on Atiu and Aitutaki.
The ship rats are also known as better
tree climbers compared to the Pacific rats making them ideal hunters for
nesting lorikeet birds.
The Kurāmo’o is also our reigning bird of
the year champion from 2021 (there was no competition in 2022). The Kurāmo’o is
now estimated to have a population of over 1000, though a dedicated updated
survey is required for more accuracy.
Today, one in three parrots, including
lorikeet species, are threatened in the wild due to habitat loss, trapping for
the pet trade and other human generated threats.
Here in the Cook Islands invasive species
such as ship rats have been the major threat to our nesting lorikeets.
Ensuring cargo coming onto Atiu and
Aitutaki are properly checked for illusive invaders such as ship rats is key to
the conservation and survival of our two special lorikeets.