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What's a Kea?

One of the few alpine parrots in the world, the Kea are known for their extreme curiosity, frequently landing on tourists' backpacks and stealing clothing and shiny things and even pulling rubber parts off of cars. Hunted to near extinction by New Zealand's ranchers, long annoyed by the omnivorous parrots' occasional attacks on their livestock (parrot attack!), the Kea was protected in 1986 and has marginally recovered to a population of a few thousand.

The Hamilton Zoo in New Zealand was lucky enough to welcome two extremely rare Kea chicks just last month.

Kea chick 2 

Kea chick 4 

Kea chick 1

Kea chick hatchings caught on camera at Hamilton Zoo

The hatching of two kea chicks at Hamilton Zoo was caught on camera Thursday [13 August] as part of a project between the facility and the Kea Conservation Trust.

The project enables 24-hour recordings of the kea nest box at Hamilton Zoo to be broadcast live at the facility and on, after state-of-the-art infrared and colour camera systems were installed at the facility earlier this year by UK-based Closewatch Ltd.

Last Thursday at 8.25am the camera system recorded the first kea chick 'pipping' (cracking its shell) before working itself free of the shell at 9.20am. Later at 1.45pm and 2.09pm the second chick was seen pipping and by 4.47pm it had begun pushing up bits of its shell. The mother then obstructed the camera's view of the chick and eggs, however at 8pm that evening a keeper reported seeing two chicks in the nest.

Hamilton Zoo Director Stephen Standley said as well as satisfying people's curiosity and providing a level of entertainment for the public, being able to utilise the camera systems to witness the hatching of the two chicks last Thursday was a huge coup for researchers.

"Like many rare species, captive breeding is a key part of the conservation process so being able to observe this very private side of their lives without impacting on their natural behaviour is very exciting for us and is an invaluable research tool," he said.

"Normally we would not be able to know the exact times of when the chicks began pipping or when they hatched, however this technology means we know have this valuable information instantly recorded.

"It also means we are now able to observe the parents feeding and raising the chicks – this is an extremely rare and fascinating insight into the private life of our kea."

Visitors to Hamilton Zoo can observe the kea nest box on a television in the zoo café, while members of the public can view the footage online by visiting and downloading the vi-viewer programme. Once the programme is downloaded, the public can also go back through the video archives, view previous footage and record their own kea action.

The kea or 'mountain parrot' is a New Zealand wildlife icon, which are endemic to the Southern Alps. Despite being widespread in the South Island just a few decades ago, kea numbers have plummeted due to hunting and poisoning from ingestion of human toxins, and there are now as few as 1000-5000 left in the wild.