I’m back in civilization for the nonce. Having seen Matthew’s posting of a playful crow (and yes, I think it’s play), and having read several readers’ comments on the playfulness of the kea, I thought I’d put up a few kea videos. (Thanks to Matthew, by the way, for a terrific job of posting, which I hope he’ll continue for the next week!)
The kea (Nestor notabilis), is an endangered, omnivorous parrot that lives on the South Island of New Zealand. The bird is famous famous for their intelligence, playfulness, and ability to outwit humans in many ways, which you’ll see in the Attenborough video below. They are powerful birds with massive beaks, and are known for ripping apart the rubber and vinyl parts of cars.
Here’s a kea rolling a snowball. One can’t interpret this as a food-related action; it looks to me for all the world like play:
Here’s an Attenborough documentary, showing how smart (and destructive) these birds are. The demonstrations and scientific tests of their keen intelligence begin about five minutes in:
One famous aspect of kea behavior, which I learned about in college, is their ability to use those beaks to rip open the backs of living sheep, tearing through the wool to snack on the fat beneath. Long subject to controversy, this behavior has now been confirmed. It’s an example of an “exaptation,” or the ability of an animal to use an evolved trait or behavior to do something completely novel. In this case, a beak evolved for eating a variety of foods has helped it become the world’s only parrot that preys on large mammals. Here’s the behavior taken from an Attenborough documentary.
Will this lead to the evolution of a carnivorous parrot. I don’t think so–sheep-fat eating is an opportunistic behavior, and probably can’t provide the main source of food for these birds. But who knows? We wouldn’t be around when it happens, and many new animal lifestyles begin in this way.