The one place you don’t expect to see parrots is in cold mountains. But such is the evolutionary weirdness of New Zealand’s fauna, this is exactly where the kea (Nestor notabilis) makes its home.
They are long-lived, intelligent, playful and highly inquisitive opportunists, not shy of human company. Far from it; they have learned that wasteful humans provide easy meals if they hang around long enough.
We encountered our first kea at the Franz Josef glacier car park. It was just jumping around, swooping, squawking and picking obsessively at the top of a tree fern. It posed nicely for us with a great view of the glacier in the background.
We met another kea as we waited to go through the tunnel on our way up to Milford Sound. Suddenly a huge bird swooped down towards the campervan and thudded onto the roof just above the passenger window.
I knew immediately from the dramatic flash of vermilion under its wings it was a kea even before I’d heard the comedy laugh of its call. Despite the rain and wind, I leapt out of the van for a better look. It toddled around the roof a bit and then started to try to dismantle the van by picking the rubber seals from around the window. Quickly bored with our van, it swooped onto the car waiting behind us and tested the rubber seals on that too.
Sadly the lights for the tunnel then changed to green and we could hang around kea-watching no more.
Photos: Moth Clark