Kea: Kokopelli in Drag

There is a story told by one of our bus drivers that a kea removed the rubber seal around a car’s windshield in a mountain parking lot, causing the glass to fall and shatter. The bird had also stripped the rubber from the windshield wipers. When the owner returned, he was understandably furious and began chase. As he went one way around the car and then the other, his quarry kept circling the car in the same direction and managed to avoid capture. I’ll bet that every Kiwi has a similar tale about the bird that once had a bounty on its head for killing sheep.

The kea is a parrot that lives only on the South Island of New Zealand. It’s an impressive bird, not only because of its great size but also its great intelligence. Unlike its parrot brethren, the kea is an alpine bird, which means it can survive in the coldest of weather. Wherever they appear, signs are posted not to feed them, firstly because it may be bad for their health, but equally important because you’d be inviting trouble. A photographer who poked his camera too close got his dangling lens cap stolen. People who approach too close may have their hiking boots attacked. They can even completely shred a tent. And, for some odd reason, they are attracted to rubber, like the story above.

In the nineteenth century, the government put a bounty on their heads because it was thought they were killing sheep. This almost led to their extinction before the bounty was removed. Now, the kea is protected. As for its killer reputation, it happens rarely.

Two popular haunts for these birds are the parking lot just west of the Homer Tunnel on Highway 94 going toward Milford Sound and around the Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook National Park.

I’m convinced that the kea is not a parrot at all, but the embodiment of any of the cleverest tricksters of mythology. Wrapped in feathers, it’s Kokopelli in drag.


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