Red-fronted Kakariki - Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae

Red-fronted kakarikiA unique captive-breeding project rescued these parakeets from likely extinction, and now they are commonly kept in aviaries around the world. Red-fronted (also sometimes described as red-crowned) kakarikis originate from New Zealand and some neighbouring islands.

Up until the start of the 20th century, it appears that the species was common in New Zealand, to the extent that red-fronted kakarikis were heavily persecuted by farmers for damaging crops. The species then underwent a dramatic decline in numbers, for reasons that are not clearly understood.

As a result, the New Zealand government allowed breeders to keep some of these parakeets in captivity, in the hope that they would be able to increase their numbers. The results were quite spectacular. The aviary population of red-fronted kakarikis rose from just 103 in 1958 to 2,500 individuals within just six years. A successful release scheme back to the wild followed during the 1970s.

Measuring about 28cm (11in) long, these parakeets, whose unusual name is of native Maori origins, are predominantly green in colour, with a crimson red forehead and a similar reddish patch behind each eye. Hens tend to be slightly smaller in size, and may have a reduced red patch on their forehead, compared with cocks.

Cinnamon pied red-fronted kakarikiSome colour variants have now become established too, including the normal pied, which displays a combination of green and yellow plumage, plus a lutino (below, right), which is pure yellow rather than green, but retains its red markings. There is also a widely-kept cinnamon form, where the green plumage is transformed to more of a yellowish-brown shade. This can be combined with the pied too (see right), to create a cinnamon pied, as can the fallow, which resembles the cinnamon in appearance.

Care needs

Kakarikis are active by nature, and are ideal for aviaries even in urban areas as their calls are unlikely to disturb the neighbours. A diet based on a mixture of millets and canary seed with a little sunflower seed added, suits them well.

They should also be given greenfood such as chickweed or dandelions regularly, and this should be sprinkled with a powdered supplement. Fruit in the form of dessert apple will be eaten too, and unusually, they may eat mealworms as well. Grit and cuttlefish bone should also be offered too.

Lutino red-fronted kakarikiPairs will often breed twice a year in succession during the summer months in temperate climates, with the hen typically laying a clutch of between 5-9 eggs. The incubation period lasts about 19 days, and rearing foods - such as canary eggfood - should be provided for the adult birds once the chicks have hatched. The young birds are usually feeding themselves by 6 weeks of age, and can be separated from their parents at this stage.

Unlike many parrots, red-fronted kakarikis are have a relatively short lifespan, with a life expectancy of little more than 6 years. Their level of activity is such that they are not as suitable to be kept as pets in the home, unless they can be given plenty of space here, although they will become tame.