Strigops habroptila 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Psittaciformes Strigopidae

Scientific Name: Strigops habroptila Gray, 1845
Common Name(s):
English Kakapo, Owl Parrot
Spanish Cacapo
Strigops habroptilus Gray, 1845 [orth. error in BirdLife International (2004)]
Taxonomic Source(s): Turbott, E.G. 1990. Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.
Identification information: 58-64 cm. Flightless, nocturnal, lek-breeding, green parrot. Moss-green upperparts. Greenish-yellow underparts. Brown-and-yellow mottling of feathers. Owl-like facial disk. Male has broader head, larger bill. Weighs up to 4 kg. Female c.65% male weight. Voice Males 'boom' repetitively at night to attract females, often audible for up to 5 km, for three to five months in some years.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered A2be ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-10-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S. & Symes, A.
Contributor(s): Jansen, P., Merton, D., Moorhouse, R. & Digby, A.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., McClellan, R., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Temple, H., Ashpole, J, Stringer, C.
This species only survives as a tiny population on three offshore islands. With the instigation of intensive management in 1995, numbers are now increasing, but the population trend over the last three generations has still been extremely rapid; it therefore qualifies as Critically Endangered.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species formerly occurred throughout most of the North, South and Stewart Islands, New Zealand. Although it disappeared from most of its original range in the wake of human colonisation, the species remained abundant in Fiordland and some other higher-rainfall and more sparsely inhabited parts of South Island until the early twentieth century (Clout and Merton 1998). By 1976, however, the known population had been reduced to 18 birds, all males, all in Fiordland. In 1977, a rapidly declining population of c. 150 birds was discovered on Stewart Island. Between 1980 and 1992, 61 remaining Stewart Island birds were transferred to offshore islands (Merton 1998, Merton and Clout 1998, Higgins 1999, Merton et al. 1999), and are presently located on Codfish Island/Whenua Hou, Anchor Island, and Little Barrier Island/Hauturu-o-Toi (A. Digby in litt. 2016). The last accepted North Island record was in 1927, the last South Island record of three males in Fiordland in 1987, and the last Stewart Island record of a female found and transferred to Codfish Island in 1997 (Powlesland et al. 2006). The species is now likely to be extinct in its natural range. 

In 1999, only 26 females and 36 males survived (Merton and Clout 1999), comprising 50 individuals of breeding age, six subadults and six juveniles. The population stabilised, and has begun to slowly increase (Higgins 1999, Merton et al. 1999, P. Jansen in litt. 1999) following the implementation of intensive management (Higgins 1999, Merton and Clout 1999, Merton et al. 1999, Elliott et al. 2001, Clout 2006). By 2005, the kakapo population stood at 86; a productive breeding year in 2009 saw the total population increase to 124 birds (Merton 2009), and there were known to be 126 birds in early 2012. A large breeding season in 2016 increased the population to 157 (50 adult females, 58 adult males, 15 juveniles, 34 chicks; A Digby, in litt. 2016). 

Countries occurrence:
New Zealand
Additional data:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):No
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:95100
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):NoExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:3Continuing decline in number of locations:No
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Upper elevation limit (metres):700
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:In 2016 there were 126 individuals, including 109 breeding adults (A. Digby in litt. 2016).

Trend Justification:  The species was described as still abundant in Fiordland and some other parts of South Island in the early twentieth century. The current population comprises of at least 109 mature adults and 153 birds in total (A. Digby in litt. 2016), but although the population is now increasing, it has declined by >80% in the last 100 years (<3 generations) (P. Jansen in litt. 2004, D. Merton in litt. 2005, Merton 2009).

Current Population Trend:Increasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:108Continuing decline of mature individuals:No
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:Yes
No. of subpopulations:1Continuing decline in subpopulations:No
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:Yes
No. of individuals in largest subpopulation:100

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:This large, flightless, nocturnal parrot feeds on leaves, stems, roots, fruit, nectar and seeds, and, prior to human colonisation, it formerly inhabited a range of vegetation types throughout most of the North, South and Stewart Islands. It breeds once every two to five years, coinciding with periodic superabundant seeding or fruiting periods of key podocarp plant species: on Codfish, Stewart and Pearl Islands nesting has only occurred when rimu Dacrydium cupressinum or pink pine Halocarpus biformis fruit has been abundant (Harper et al. 2006). Males cluster in traditional lekking sites and advertise their presence by calling each night for about three months, with mating occurring mainly between January and early March (Powlesland et al. 2006). One to four eggs are laid and all parental care is performed by the female, with eggs and chicks being left unattended for several hours at night. Female Kakapo take 5-11 years to reach breeding age, have a mean lifespan of at least 60 years (A. Digby in litt. 2016). One productive male and female are at least 30 years old, and probably much older. Adult survivorship is now more than 98% per year (Lloyd and Powlesland 1994, Cresswell 1996, Clout and Merton 1998, Merton and Clout 1998, 1999, Higgins 1999, Merton et al. 1999, A. Digby in litt. 2016).

Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:No
Generation Length (years):27
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): On Stewart Island, over 50% of monitored adults were killed each year by cats (Clout and Merton 1998). Introduced stoats Mustela erminea and black rats Rattus rattus contributed to the decline and Polynesian rats Rattus exulans can pose a threat to eggs and chicks (Collar and Sharpe 2014). Abnormally low egg fertility and exceedingly low natural reproductive and recruitment rates are major concerns. In 2004, three juveniles died of septicaemia caused by the bacteria Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae (erysipelas), a disease which had not previously been reported in the species (P. Jansen in litt. 2004). Since 2002 at least 15 kakapo have been diagnosed with cloacitis on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island; a condition which is causing increasing concern (Jakob-Hoff 2009, White et al. 2015).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation and Research Actions Underway
Kakapo are legally protected in New Zealand and listed on CITES Appendix I. Extensive research is on-going. All individuals are radio-tagged, and tracked throughout the year. Supplementary feeding has increased the success of breeding attempts, and it is hoped may be able to be used to trigger breeding in future (Higgins 1999, Raubenheimer and Simpson 2006). Reducing supplementary feeding levels has been shown to increase the percentage of female chicks produced and may assist in redressing the skewed gender balance (Clout et al. 2002, Robertson et al. 2006). A research programme is under way to assess whether low levels of vitamin D found in kākāpō are natural, or as a result of management (von Hurst et al. 2015). During breeding seasons, each nest is monitored using infra-red video cameras and remote proximity sensors. Methods of hand-rearing chicks are being refined. Genetic diversity of the remaining population is managed to improve hatching rates (Merton 2006). In 2015 a project was started to sequence the genomes of every living kākāpō; by mid-2016, genomes for 40 individuals had been sequenced (A. Digby in litt. 2016). 
Invasive species (stoats, possums, rats, cats) have been eradicated from all islands where kakapo are now present. Translocations have been carried out to take advantage of locally abundant food supplies and increase the frequency of breeding attempts (Merton 2006). Trials of artificial insemination methods have taken place (A. Digby in litt. 2016), and in 2009 three chicks were produced using this technique (R. J. Moorhouse in litt. 2012). In 2016, successful breeding took place on Anchor Island for the first time, with a total of 24 chicks (12 hand-raised) produced from Whenua Hou/Codfish Island and Anchor (A. Digby in litt. 2016).  A search for any remaining birds in Fiordland was completed in 2006, with no birds found and no evidence of their continued existence. A Kakapo Recovery Plan (the third since 1989), produced in partnership between the Department of Conservation, Forest & Bird and Rio Tinto Alcan (formerly Comalco), covers the period 2006-2016.

Conservation and Research Actions ProposedThe current kakapo recovery plan (2006-2016) outlines four key goals for the species: maximise recruitment in the kakapo population; minimise loss of genetic diversity; secure, restore or maintain sufficient habitat to accommodate the expected increase in the kākāpō population; and maintain public awareness and stakeholder support for kākāpō conservation (Anon 2016). Collar and Butchart (2013) suggested that captive breeding should be considered, however, adult kakapo cannot be kept alive in captivity for long periods (A. Digby in litt. 2016).

Classifications [top]

1. Forest -> 1.4. Forest - Temperate
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:Yes
1. Forest -> 1.6. Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Lowland
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
14. Artificial/Terrestrial -> 14.2. Artificial/Terrestrial - Pastureland
suitability:Suitable season:resident major importance:No
2. Land/water management -> 2.3. Habitat & natural process restoration
3. Species management -> 3.2. Species recovery
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
  Action Recovery plan:Yes
  Systematic monitoring scheme:Yes
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
  Percentage of population protected by PAs (0-100):91-100
  Area based regional management plan:Yes
  Invasive species control or prevention:Yes
In-Place Species Management
  Harvest management plan:Yes
  Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly:Yes
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:Yes
In-Place Education
  Subject to recent education and awareness programmes:Yes
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Rattus exulans ]
♦ timing:Past, Likely to Return ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Rattus rattus ]
♦ timing:Past, Likely to Return ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Mustela erminea ]
♦ timing:Past, Likely to Return ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Felis catus ]
♦ timing:Past, Likely to Return ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species/diseases -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae ]
♦ timing:Past, Likely to Return ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

1. Research -> 1.6. Actions

Bibliography [top]

Anon. 2008. How to make a big-boned bird breed. New Scientist 199(2673): 16.

Anon. 2008. Kakapo set to breed. Forest and Bird: 3.

Anon. 2009. Long lost Kakapo rediscovered after 21 years. Available at: #

Anon. 2015. In the wild. Kakapo Recovery. Available at: (Accessed: 30/09/2015).

Anon. 2016 . A Plan for the Future. Available at: (Accessed: 07/07/2016).

Clout, M.; Merton, D. 1998. Saving the Kakapo: the conservation of the world's most peculiar parrot. Bird Conservation International 8: 281-296.

Clout, M. N. 2006. A celebration of kakapo: progress in the conservation of an enigmatic parrot. Notornis 53(1): 1-2.

Clout, M.N., Elliott, G.P. and Robertson, B.C. 2002. Effects of supplementary feeding on the offspring sex ratio of kakapo: a dilemma for the conservation of a polygynous parrot. Biological Conservation 107(1): 13-18.

Collar, N. and Sharpe, C.J. 2014. Kakapo (Strigops habroptila). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. and de Juana, E. (eds), Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Collar, N.J. and Butchart, S.H.M. 2013. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook 48(1): 7-28.

Cresswell, M. 1996. Kakapo recovery plan 1996-2005. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

David, N. and Gosselin, M. 2002. Gender agreement of avian species names. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 122: 14-49.

Elliott, G.P., Merton, D. V, Jansen, P.W. 2001. Intensive management of a critically endangered species: The kakapo. Biological Conservation 99: 121–133.

Harper, G. A.; Elliott, G. P.; Eason, D. K.; Moorhouse, R. J. 2006. What triggers nesting of Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus)? Notornis 53(1): 160-163.

Higgins, P. J. 1999. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds: parrots to dollarbirds. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

Hirschfeld, E. 2008. Rare Birds Yearbook 2009: the world's 190 most threatened birds. MagDig Media Ltd., Shrewsbury, UK.

IUCN. 2001. IUCN Red List categories and criteria: version 3.1. IUCN, Gland & Cambridge.

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-3. Available at: (Accessed: 07 December 2016).

Jakob-Hoff, R. 2009. Traumatic cloacitis in a kakapo. Kokako 19: 51-52.

Kakapo Recovery. 2014. Kakapo Recovery Science Update - August 2014. Department of Conservation - Te Papa Atawhai, Invercagill, New Zealand.

Lloyd, B. D.; Powlesland, R. G. 1994. The decline of Kakapo Strigops habroptilus and attempts at conservation by translocation. Biological Conservation 69: 75-85.

Merton, D. 1997. Kakapo update. PsittaScene 9(1): 3-4.

Merton, D. 1998. Kakapo update.

Merton, D. 2009. Kakapo news. PsittaScene 21(3): 18.

Merton, D.; Clout, M. 1998. Red Data Bird: Kakapo Strigops habroptilus. World Birdwatch 20: 20-21.

Merton, D.; Clout, M. 1999. Kakapo: back from the brink. Wingspan 9(2): 14-17.

Merton, D.; Reed, C.; Crouchley, D. 1999. Recovery strategies and techniques for three free-living, critically-endangered New Zealand birds: Kakapo Strigops habroptilus, Black Stilt Himantopus novaezelandiae and Takahe Porphyrio mantelli. In: Roth, T.L.; Swanson, W.F.; Blattman, L.K. (ed.), Proceedings 7th world conference on breeding endangered species, pp. 151-162. Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Cincinnati.

Merton, D. V. 2006. The Kakapo: some highlights and lessons from five decades of applied conservation. Journal of Ornithology 147(5): 4.

Powlesland, R. G.; Merton, D. V.; Cockrem, J. F. 2006. A parrot apart: the natural history of the Kakapo (Strigops habroptila), and the context of its conservation management. Notornis 53(1): 3-26.

Raubenheimer, D.; Simpson, S. J. 2006. The challenge of supplementary feeding: can geometric analysis help save the Kakapo? Notornis 53(1): 100-111.

Robertson, H.A., Karika, I. and Saul, E.K. 2006. Translocation of Rarotonga monarchs Pomarea dimidiata within the Southern Cook Islands. Bird Conservation International 16(3): 197-215.

von Hurst, P.R., Moorhouse, R.J., Raubenheimer, D. 2016. Preferred natural food of breeding Kakapo is a high value source of calcium and vitamin D. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 164: 177-179.

White, D., Hall, R., Jakob-Hoff, R., Wang, J., Jackson, B., Tompkins, D. 2015. Exudative cloacitis in the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) potentially linked to Escherichia coli infection. New Zealand Veterinary Journal: 1-4.

Citation: BirdLife International. 2016. Strigops habroptila. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22685245A93065234. . Downloaded on 18 July 2018.
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