Rare Parrot Needs the Right Feed to Breed
Here’s a news article on Kakapo parrots from the New Scientist. I went to New Zealand last year, but the last Kakapo are on islands that are off-limits to tourists. I did see a mounted specimen at the National Museum in Wellington (pictured below). I’ll be posting articles I’ve written on the other New Zealand parrots (Kea, Kaka, and Kakariki) soon.
Rare parrot needs the right feed to breed
- 10 September 2008
- NewScientist.com news service
THE Atkins diet might work for Hollywood starlets, but it’s hopeless at coaxing the world’s biggest and most endangered parrot to breed. Conservationists have been filling kakapos with high-protein supplements in the hope of boosting their numbers above just 91, but it now seems they have been focusing on the wrong nutrient.
The flightless New Zealand birds only breed when they can feast on the rimu, a conifer that only fruits every three to four years. In non-fruiting years, the scientists fed the birds protein as it is known to be important for breeding in general.
To find out why these breeding programmes failed, nutritional ecologist David Raubenheimer at Massey University, Auckland, compared the nutrient content of the supplements and the rimu. He found the supplements were high in protein and low in calcium, while the fruit was the opposite.
This might be why efforts to get the birds breeding have failed. Calcium is vital for bone growth, says Raubenheimer, and the kakapo have an “unusually large skeleton”. The supplements may have been too protein-rich, he suggests: animals can’t process too much protein, so the kakapo would have stopped eating before they got enough calcium.