You’ve probably heard of the Kea. Endemic to the South Island of New Zealand, it’s the world’s only alpine parrot. It’s endearingly curious and devilishly intelligent. It gets up to all kinds of mischief, from knocking over coffee cups to breaking into tourists’ cars.
I heard a story about some people who had a rental car or campervan or something somewhere in the South Island, and when they got back to where they’d parked they found a group of kea happily playing inside the vehicle, having peeled the rubber from around the windscreen until it fell inwards. So, you know, if you hire a campervan in the South Island, that’s something to watch out for.
Even if they don’t break in, they can snap off windscreen wipers and radio antennae.
And don’t leave your backpack unattended around them.
When my family were on our South Island campervan holiday, we went to a café in Arthur’s Pass. We sat at a table outside and watched in amusement as the birds descended. There was a sign saying not to feed them, so we didn’t, but that didn’t stop them. My mum had an apple, and as she raised it to take a bite, one kea got onto the table and reached up to take a bite from the other side! We shooed it away – admittedly, not very emphatically – and chuckled as they investigated my dad’s empty coffee cup, knocking it over to get at the dregs.
At a neighbouring table, there was a family with a baby in a highchair. The kea were quite interested in the highchair, which freaked the baby out a bit, and they observed intently as the baby banged the tray up and down. When the family had gone, some of the birds climbed into the highchair and proceeded to bang the tray up and down for themselves!
Also, across the road from the café, there was a pub with an open door. We saw one kea walk quite nonchalantly into the pub, right past a “No Kea” sign, only to be chivvied out a minute or so later. We noticed that all the bins in the area had lids that were weighted down.
Kea are excellent problem solvers. They may even be the most intelligent birds in the world. In some areas, they’ve been known to use sticks to set off stoat traps to get at the bait eggs inside.
They’ve been seen deliberately sliding down roofs for fun, deliberately dropping things from a height to see if they’d smash, untying bootlaces, stealing gloves and kicking a can to each other as though playing football.
Despite their fun-loving nature, kea do have a darker side: they swoop down and take bites out of live sheep.
To see these dangerously intelligent birds at work, just watch this David Attenborough video:
So make sure you watch out for kea when you’re in the South Island. They can make a delightful addition to your holiday – if they don’t trash your campervan and steal your passport, that is.