Kakarikis – New Zealand’s Little Jewels

kakdsVery few of us in the US have ever seen a kakariki “in the feather”. Information about these birds has been growing for several years, and they sound as if they are a lot of fun. But they are fairly rare in the US, so most of us have never really had the opportunity to even see, much less own one. Kaks are native to New Zealand and thus are better known to Australians, where they are very common in aviculture. Mike has been successfully raising them for a while, while Sandra has recently obtained her first breeders and is learning fast.

There is a real lack of kak photographs, so from the way they are described, one would think they look something along the lines of a caique. Not so! Kaks are tiny little green birds with red on their foreheads! They are smaller than cockatiels! And have such tiny little petite beaks! But with eyes full of intelligence and mischief, you can tell that they would be a handful as a pet!

Mike feeds his kakis the same diet as his tiels – maybe more apple and fruit, and seed of course, not pellets, since Australians have not embraced pellet diets for their birds. He has not identified any special high protein needs for kakis.

Sandra finds kakarikis are sort of an “in-between” bird – on the one hand, they require the same type diet as most other small hookbills – a high quality small pellet, good cockatiel seed mix, fresh vegetables. But on the other hand, has been told they also have a higher protein requirement than other small hookbills, and need to be fed a consistent diet of a bean-type mash, as well as commercially prepared egg food. She mixes commercial lory pellets in with their regular pellets, and is in the process of trying a new homemade dry lory powder also. These birds need a lot more variety in their diet than other birds can get by on.

Kaks are VERY active, and don’t do well in small cages. Sandra’s breeding pairs will have outdoor flights, ten feet long by three feet wide by six feet high – one pair per flight. Mike has his in 15 foot long flights, in one case sharing peacefully with a pair of plumhead parrots. They are not suspended off the ground, because kaks enjoy digging in the ground, and in fact this is an integral part of their nesting behaviour. It is possible to raise them successfully in smaller enclosures, but they are strong fliers and are much happier if they have the room to fly and exercise than if they have to sit on a perch in a small cage every day. Even when kept as pets, be sure that your kak has a MUCH larger cage than you would think it would need. This can prove difficult, because it’s hard to find a cage that is not only large enough for the bird to get adequate exercise, but also has small enough bar spacing so that he isn’t in any danger of getting his head caught between the bars.

Even breeder pairs love toys – they all have hanging toys in their cages, and spend lots of time “killing” them every day. They are quite hyperactive when compared to many other birds – like caiques, they are the “Energizer Bunny” of the bird world, and keeping up with one as a pet could be an exhausting prospect! They also love to bathe, even in the coldest weather, so provide a fresh dish of bathing water each day for them.

There are two main subspecies of Kakarikis – the red-fronted kak, which is more prevalent in the US, and the yellow-fronted kak, which is more common in its native country of New Zealand and in aviculture in Australia. There are also some mutations available in Europe and Australia, principally a pied and a beautiful lutino – a stunning bright yellow with a red frontal band on the head. Care should be taken not to crossbreed between the yellow-fronted and the red-fronted kaks, as the resulting babies not only are not that attractive, but are also useless for breeding purposes. Our understanding is that New Zealand is currently trying to encourage the captive breeding of the red-fronted kak, which is endangered in the wild, in order to increase the population.


Breeding experiences vary with individual pairs and environments. Both Mike and Sandra have different situations and have observed different behaviors.

Sandra has found that her kaks are very protective of their young and their nestbox, and will attack and kill their babies if they feel that they are threatened in any way. A new pair of kaks was placed within about ten feet of an Umbrella cockatoo in the aviary. They sat and hatched their babies just fine, but as the babies got older, the noise from the cockatoo obviously disturbed them. One morning she found they had killed all the chicks. Needless to say, the kaks were moved to the quietest, most secluded corner of the aviary after this “learning experience”! Kaks are still VERY much an experiment at Blue Skies – this is the first year trying to breed them. Hopefully moving them outdoors into large flights will help them feel more comfortable and less confined.

Mike has had more positive experiences with breeding kakis. He finds that his kaks are good parents, and sometimes aggressive too, and may even kill other small birds such as Neophemas when breeding. However, he’s never heard of them killing their own chicks. Mike’s pairs are right next to a pair of noisy alexandrines and don’t seem to mind.

Hand rearing of baby Kakarikis is quite staightforward, similar to a cockatiel, although they are less messy eaters. They wean easily and usually have no problems. Sometimes however they are prone to bacterial and fungal problems, and a slow crop is a cause for immediate concern – they can go downhill very quickly. Some strains also seem to have a calcium uptake problem, and young birds may be liable to broken legs, so look to adding some extra calcium supplement to their feed once a day.

Aviary raised babies can also be prone to this, compounded by a tendency to leave the nest earlier than is good for them, so extra calcium given to the parents may help. Even as babies they are just too curious for their own good! As a result, sometimes a baby will attempt to leave the nest early and on discovering it can’t fly, will crash to the ground heavily and possibly break a leg. One solution is to put the nest box on the ground. It won’t worry the parents, and then when the immature baby attempts to fly the coup, it is a hop down to the ground and no harm is done. The other problem to watch for is the temperature, they are a cold climate bird, the babies have a heavy down covering, and in very hot weather they are at risk of heat exhaustion and death. Steps may need to taken to cool down the aviary and nestbox.

Kakis as Pets

As a pet bird, they are a delight to have. Not a cuddly bird like a cockatiel, and for the most part they definitely don’t enjoy a scratch, but they are constantly on the move, exploring, investigating and playing. They will come and visit you, have a chat, and then move on to find more exciting things to do, all the time keeping up a constant cackle by way of a commentary on what they find. They are not an especially destructive bird but are in the same league as a cockatiel, that is, your book covers, magazines and newspapers are at risk, but the antique furniture is likely to survive unscathed.

One quandary with keeping kakarikis as pets is wing clipping. They tend to be very miserable if they are able to fly, and then get their wings clipped, and yet they are such strong and agile flyers that it is almost essential to clip them. The solution is to make sure they are clipped at weaning before the joys of flight are revealed to them. If they don’t know what they are missing then they are less likely to be upset by clipping. If you do decide to allow free flight, there is no need to worry about them coming to harm in the house, they are very skilful and intelligent flyers, but there is plenty to worry about with escape, so take extreme care. They can also learn to talk, and some males are quite good talkers, better than a cockatiel at times. Females are less likely to talk, but a few words are still possible.

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