It’s been the summer of love for kakapo parrots in New Zealand. Some of the most endangered birds on the planet spent the summer down under getting busy, and conservation scientists report that a record-long birth season has helped bolster the bird’s numbers.
Until this winter, the Kakapo parrot population numbered just 147. But this fall has seen the birds give birth to 73 chicks and counting during what has become the longest kakapo birthing season on record, according to the New Zealand Department of Conservation scientists tracking the birds. Even though all the chicks won’t make it to adulthood, many will, providing a huge boost to the endangered birds’ numbers.
Love (or lust) was in the air this year this austral summer thanks to a bumper crop of rimu fruit, which are basically the coniferous tree’s pine cones. The pine trees only put out red fruits every few years, but a bumper crop is a precursor to lots of bird boning. Research has shown that the birds rely on the fruit for vitamin D, which is essential for laying eggs and then feeding the chicks once they hatch.
Kakapo parrots rose to memedom fame due to one shagging a guy’s head on the BBC’s Last Chance to See, which led the puritans at io9 to call the bird “the most hopelessly inefficient reproducer on Earth.” But the birds are more than just an icon to fumbling horny people everywhere. Weighing up to 5 pounds they’re the fatties of the parrot world, and one of only a handful of flightless parrots. They can also add more than 2 pounds of fat before cuffing season. Relatable.
The birds can live up to 90 years, which the New Zealand Department of Conservation says makes them perhaps the longest lived birds on the planet. Unfortunately that means they’ve witness some changes to their habitat that have caused their numbers to decline. Polynesian settlers brought rats and dogs that ate the birds and their eggs. And then European settlers bought deforestation, further contributing to the bird’s declining population. Add in feral cats and you’ve got a recipe for a bird apocalypse. By the mid-1990s, only 50 or so kakapos remained.
But scientists have been working in recent years to restore the populations through targeted conservation and cat and rat eradication to help set the mood. And with this year’s bumper group of hatchlings, it seems like its working.