HELP THEM HELP KEA
WORDS Joshua Brosnahan PHOTOS Kate Le Comte
Nestled in the mountainous, beech- forested valley of Arthur’s Pass is the Kea Kiosk, the result of years’ worth of work by Dr. Laura Young, George Moon and Mark Brabyn, along with numerous hours of volunteer time from many people.
Working with the Kea Conservation Trust, Arthur’s Pass Wildlife Trust and the Department of Conservation, the construction of the Kea Kiosk marked the completion of the first major part of the citizen science project known as the ‘Kea Sightings Project’. Complete with six large information boards, the kiosk helps to highlight the history, intelligence, threats, local kea personalities, and all sorts of other interesting things about our special alpine parrot, Nestor notabilis.
One of the key reasons for the project, according to Dr. Laura Young, is raising awareness of just how threatened kea are.
“Kea numbers [are] estimated to only be between 3000 and 7000 individuals. People are often surprised to hear the number is so low, given that they are highly visible birds, often found interacting with, or destroying human things.”
While telling people about the plight of kea is helpful, George Moon says the most engaging and unique part about this project is the citizen science aspect.
“In a nutshell, this involves the banding of kea with coloured bands which are easily able to be read with the naked eye, or by simply taking a photo and zooming in. These kea are then loaded on to the online Kea Database, in which anybody can look up the name of the bird they just saw, find out some key details, learn about its personality and also log sightings of birds, banded or not.”
The purpose of collecting the sightings is to better understand what’s going on with the numbers of kea in the mountains; for example how many there are, where they go, how many new young fledglings appear each year. As part of the banding process, the kea are also tested for lead poisoning, unfortunately, a problem due to kea eating the lead-headed nails and flashings on old buildings.
Amongst other things, the online database for bird details and reporting sightings is the main part of the project that George is responsible for.
“The Kea Database is the result of hundreds of hours of work. It has certainly been an interesting and rewarding project, requiring a mix of geography, conservation, design, and technical skills. A highlight was our database somehow managing to get an award for its ‘open source’ approach to science last year.” George’s additional work includes sorting out web maps, hosting, data import, accessibility testing, security and more.
If you want to help the Kea Sightings Project, Laura encourages the public to help add to the Kea Database.
“We’re really interested in any observations of kea, not just in Arthur’s Pass, but anywhere in the South Island. We’re also interested in what we call ‘non-sightings’, which is when you go to a place expecting to see kea and there were none, especially if it was a past kea hot-spot.”
As a novel way of raising funds, you can even sponsor an individual kea or even name one in return for having your details listed on the website. Some of the more memorable names include Elvis, Chief Justice, Tenacious D, and Vladimir. Help them, help kea.