Dean Baigent-Mercer on the virtues of the comeback kid — the kakariki.

Imagine a world without the colour green: green in all its shades, mossy, lime, dark leafy green. Impossible? Well, Maori named the native parakeets, "kakariki" which literally means "little parrots" and due to their awesome green-ness the word "kakariki" also serves as the word for the colour green. Unfortunately eyecatching green kakariki are now gone from most of our lives.

The energetic birds used to fly in flocks, chattering away. They used to be common, so common that kakariki bones are the most frequent bone deposits between 1000 and 3000 years ago. In the 1800s, people stuffed mattresses with their feathers.

But human arrival to these islands started a slow decline in kakariki numbers that came to a shuddering collapse after the advent of Europeans and the mammals they brought with them.

You see kakariki don't build nests out of grass and sticks, but make use of holes in banks and holes in huge, old trees that form when a branch breaks off and rot begins. These are dry, cozy places to lay one egg at a time until there's up to nine. In years where there's more food, there are more chicks.

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But the dry spots that work well for laying eggs have made kakariki sitting ducks when rats, possums, cats, stoats and weasels visit. These introduced predators can be looking for dry places as well to sleep, raise their young, or more likely, for lunch.

Even though vast areas of native forests have been cleared, it is really the constant predation by introduced animals that has wiped kakariki out. Otherwise, they could quite happily be hanging out on your clothes line.

However, you can see these cheerful chatterers on pest-free islands, where they have been returned and kept safe. In 2008, kakariki were reintroduced from Hauturu/Little Barrier Island and set free on Motuihe Island. From there, they have bred up and island-hopped to Motutapu and Rangitoto and are now turning up on Waiheke and some nearby edges of Auckland.

Kakariki are quite happy to nest in boxes, so you can help them establish on the mainland by trapping possums and rats, keeping cats contained and popping up a nesting box when they are seen in your area.

Some people think they see kakariki around - but if they have a red head and are quite colourful, they will be Aussie rosellas.

Don't let them trick you!

Orange-fronted kakariki are the rarest and remain in only a few small patches of bush in the South Island. In the past decade, their extinction has been prevented by the use of 1080 during beech masting years. It's been that close.

Last winter, kakariki were re-introduced to Moturua Island in the Bay of Islands as part of Project Island Song. It was a day that required a lot of preparation, planning and fundraising. If you've ever had the privilege of being at an event where a bird species is returned, you'll remember it forever.

There's an excited buzz in the air, a hush of the people as the helicopter lands and excited gasps as the birds shoot out of the transport boxes into their new home. Sometimes the birds will hang around, other times they are off.

Only six months after their return, we're waiting to hear news any day now of cute kakariki chicks learning to fly.

motuihe.org.nz
projectislandsong.co.nz