Rare kākāriki karaka chicks successfully hand-reared after parents pluck feathers

Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre has successfully hand-reared five orange-fronted parakeets, a species that has been declared extinct twice; in 1919 and 1965.

The five young kākāriki karaka have regrown their feathers and learned to fly. Source: Supplied

By Caleb Fotheringham of

Kākāriki karaka, or orange-fronted parakeets, are New Zealand's rarest parakeets, and have a wild population of only 100 to 300 individual birds.

Successfully hand-rearing them is considered extremely difficult. But rangers at Pūkaha had little choice; five chicks were found bald, two weeks after they hatched in early August.

Breeding rangers discovered the parents of the birds had plucked out the chicks' feathers. Without feathers the young chicks were at risk of dying from the cold, so the rangers placed the chicks in brooders with a heat lamp and fed the chicks parrot-rearing formula.

It's not known why the parents plucked the feathers out.

Hand-rearing is rarely used for orange-fronted parakeets because the birds have a high risk of imprinting, or identifying with a species they are exposed to during development.

The tiny kākāriki karaka chicks would not have survived without intervention. Source: Supplied

If imprinting takes place the birds would not likely survive in the wild.

Pūkaha breeding ranger, Jess Flamy said the circumstance meant the rangers had no other choice but to attempt to hand-rear the chicks.

It took three weeks for them to grow their feathers back. Now all five chicks are fully grown, flying and eating by themselves - and the team says there's no sign of imprinting.

The centre first received orange-fronted parakeets in 2009, and bred four of the parakeets for the first time this February.

The rare kākāriki karaka clutch had to be hand-reared after their parents plucked them bare. Source: Supplied

Pūkaha were pleased the parakeets survived, but hoped not to have to hand-rear the species again.

Orange-fronted parakeets are critically endangered and are still at high risk of extinction.

The Department of Conservation say they were once found throughout New Zealand, but in the wild they are now only found in Arthur's Pass National Park and Lake Sumner Forest Park.