A couple of regular visitors to The Remarkables ski area have been tagged and blood-tested as part of an effort to boost their numbers.
Kea Conservation Trust field researcher Corey Mosen, assisted by the trust's chairwoman, Tamsin Orr-Walker, caught two juvenile males with a net gun in the skifield's car park last Thursday.
As well as fitting leg bands, they took blood samples from the birds to test for lead poisoning, and to keep a DNA record.
Ms Orr-Walker, of Queenstown, said both birds had low lead levels, so did not need to be taken away for treatment.
Research in the past 12 years had shown kea that regularly came into contact with human habitation had high blood-lead levels.
They were attracted by the lead on older buildings, contained in nail heads and flashings, because it was soft and sweet to taste.
The trust had started a project across the South Island to remove lead from the natural environment.
"We have no idea if lead is an issue for this area. Where we find there are high blood-lead levels in certain populations, then we'll be looking for help from the community to find the sources of that lead and remove it."
The Southern Lakes region was once a "hot spot" for kea but the parrots were decimated by farmers because of their tendency to attack stock, she said.
They did not receive full protection until 1986, and the last permit to shoot kea was granted as recently as 2009. Now only a "handful" of birds remained in the Wakatipu basin, probably no more than 10.
Although those birds were probably still producing young, the chicks were unlikely to survive for long enough to leave their nests.
"Predation is a massive issue right across the South Island in areas where there is very little pest control.
"One of the things we'd like to do in the future is tag adult breeding females, follow them back to their nests and put cameras around them.
"Then we can identify what predators are impacting on the birds, and put trapping networks around the nests to protect them."
The trust's work is being supported by the skifield's owner, NZSki, which is giving the trust $50,000 a year until 2023.
As well as blood testing and tagging, the trust will use the funding to educate the public about kea and to carry out predator control.
This summer, traps will be set and maintained at The Remarkables and NZSki's other ski areas, Coronet Peak and Mt Hutt, to catch stoats and possums.