In A Nutshell
Parrots are known for being brightly colored, often cheerful, fruit and nut eaters. However, there are always exceptions in the natural world, and few are more foreign to human imagination than the idea of a predatory parrot. New Zealand’s Keas rip meat off a range of species, while deceptively cute Antipodes Island parakeets like to dismember seabirds.
The Whole Bushel
Parrots form a fascinating order of terrestrial birds inhabiting almost every tropical location worldwide, and a few temperate zones as well. Usually, parrots feed on natural forest foods, or the stereotypical cracker offered by a human companion.
For two species, however, vegetarian fare just won’t cut it. In the Antipodes Islands off New Zealand, beautiful, bright green Antipodes parakeets live on the ground, harboring a dark secret. Nesting storm petrels, tiny relatives of the albatross lay their eggs in burrows. The parakeet enters these burrows and uses its razor-sharp, fiercely hooked beak to crack open and dismember seabirds with truly raptorial ferocity. Carrion is also eaten, vulture fashion.
On New Zealand’s South Island, the somewhat hawk-like kea soars in the cold mountains and has been known to tear pieces out of still-living sheep. It is known that diseased or sickly sheep are only very rare victims of the gruesome tactics of this amazing and endangered parrot that ekes out a living in the mountains.
These two death parrots are remarkable and well-adapted birds and deserve the same level of protection given to other parrots worldwide, especially since the kea became endangered. Ironically, occasional attacks on sheep may stem from human extermination of their natural prey, such as the flightless goose.