Two powerful government bodies are combining forces to track New Zealand's endangered parrot, the kaka, on Waikato ranges.

Crown research institute Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research has partnered with the Department of Conservation on a new research project using solar-powered GPS tags to track the movement of kaka.

Kaka numbers have decreased heavily since the 1980s in places such as Pirongia, Mamaku, Maungatautari, and Kaimai.

The Department of Conservation reports the bird's status as at risk but recovering.

Manaaki Whenua researchers, John Innes and Neil Fitzgerald have been planning the kaka movements research for a year.


John says the project will assist in answering questions about the kaka's movements.

"Kaka birds are such a mystery they are only found in NZ and are hidden in the whole central island including the Waikato, but they only come in during the winter and then disappear. So, our first question is where do they go?"

Department of Conservation staff flew up from the South Island last week to help train local Manaaki Whenua researchers on how to capture and handle the native birds.

In addition, Neil says attempts to capture and secure the kaka with solar-powered GPS tags have started.

"The GPS tags record the position of the bird and send it back to us through phone networks and we get the data back here at our desk."

Manaaki Whenua researcher, Neil Fitzgerald with solar-powered GPS tag. Photo / Supplied
Manaaki Whenua researcher, Neil Fitzgerald with solar-powered GPS tag. Photo / Supplied

According to the two researchers, kaka travel great distances on a very large scale.

"There was a kaka band on the Great Barrier Island back in the 80s and a couple years later it was seen in Gisborne, so that is the distance these birds can move," Neil says.

The birds are vulnerable for various reasons including deforestation, competition for food supply, and the parrot's innate choice to nestle underground, which makes them susceptible to predators.


John and Neil say long term plans for the project include studying the kaka's preferred nesting and food requirements, in order to build a sanctuary that will encourage them to nestle in gardens and backyards.

John notes nesting in an urban or rural area is not straight forward.

"You have to be mindful of the bird. They have got their own picture of where they will nest and often it is different to what humans think."

John and Neil previously monitored the Halo project which saw the successful rise of tui numbers in the Waikato.

John says it was "hugely rewarding" to hear people's tui stories.

"It's the public to thank for that because they were the ones planting trees for tui. Now if only we can do something similar for the kaka."


The Manaaki Whenua experts describe the native bird as "a big, mostly brown parrot" which at times can be "conspicuous and mischievous" but is known for a distinctive call.

Have you recently sighted the native brown parrot?

For more information or to contact John and Neil head to