Have you ever seen an insect that looks like a swollen raisin wrapped in bright red velvet? Do any of the dogs in your neighborhood climb trees and 'sing'? When was the last time you saw a giant green parrot bellowing all night in a dirt pit? Or a hairless, tunneling rat that acts more like a honeybee or an ant? Read on, and get to know these odd but honest-to-goodness members of Earth's animal kingdom.
The Maori of New Zealand named it "kakapo," or "the night parrot." One of the world's rarest birds (Strigops habroptilus), it hardly resembles other parrots in its behavior. It's the only known flightless, nocturnal parrot.
The kakapo is beautiful. Its back is covered with soft green feathers marked with black bars. Its underside is downy soft and light yellowish-green. Looking at its head, you'd think it was an owl with whiskers and an oversized light-blue/off-white beak.
At eight pounds, the kakapo is also the world's heaviest parrot. And unlike many birds, it is herbivorous (vegetarian). It lives on seeds, fruits, flowers, leaves, and bulbs. It does not eat insects.
The kakapo has wings, but cannot fly. This makes it very vulnerable to predators. When an enemy appears, the bird's strategy is to do nothing. It stays absolutely still and hopes that its protective coloring will convince a predator that it's a plant.
To further protect itself, the kakapo travels alone and at night. This may be to reduce the noise caused by roaming flocks. (Other parrots are social creatures.)
In mating season, a male kakapo digs a shallow pit in the dirt. There it spends the night making loud booming calls to attract females. Females lay eggs in holes dug in the ground. They tend their young alone.
There are 62 known kakapo left. Don Merton, of New Zealand's conservation department, is credited with saving the last of these parrots. He had them relocated to three islands off New Zealand. No known kakapo predators live on the islands, so perhaps the birds will thrive.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society