Kākāriki of Aotearoa
I have explored the different types of parrots in the kākāpō post, so I won't go into that here. I grew up signing the rainbow in Te Reo at primary school, so for me, "kākāriki" means "green", and "karaka" means orange, so this bird's name is a bit confusing for my super-basic Māori language skills!
As it turns out, the colour "kākāriki" is named after the bird, just like the colour "karaka" means orange because the name comes from the colour of the fruit of the karaka tree.
The etymology is: from kākā, parrot + riki, small. The word is also used to refer to the colour green because of the birds' predominantly green plumage.
The word "kākāriki" also has several other uses in Te Reo - click here to read about them.
Sources and resources
Malherbe's parakeet (Cyanoramphus malherbi), usually known as the orange-fronted parakeet or in Māori, kākāriki karaka, is a small parrot endemic to New Zealand. In New Zealand it is always known as the orange-fronted parakeet, a name it shares with a species from Central America, while in the rest of the world it is known as Malherbe's parakeet. Restricted to a few valleys in the South Island and four offshore islands, its population declined to around 200 in the 1990s, and it is now considered critically endangered.
This budgerigar-sized parakeet is usually quiet and difficult to observe. A loud brief chatter or quieter contact call may give away its presence, but locating the bird can be extremely difficult. Orange-fronted parakeets are often confused with yellow-crowned parakeets. Formerly occurring throughout New Zealand, orange-fronted parakeets are now confined to four South Island beech forest valleys. Captive-reared birds have also been released on four offshore islands.
NZ birds online
Reports from the 1800s show that orange-fronted parakeets were once found throughout New Zealand. However, their distribution has reduced dramatically over the last century and the orange-fronted parakeet is now our rarest parakeet and forest bird in New Zealand.
The remaining populations are all within a 30 km radius in beech forests of upland valleys within Arthur’s Pass National Park and Lake Sumner Forest Park in Canterbury, South Island. The easiest place to see them, although still difficult, is in the Hawdon valley in Arthur’s Pass National Park.
Although kākāriki karaka are now confined to these few valleys, historic records suggest that in the later years of the 1800s, when beech seed was bountiful during mast years, the parakeets would have a breeding boom and disperse onto the Canterbury Plains.
Identifying the kākāriki karaka
Reading the descriptions of the birds is a really important way of identifying the details that must be captured in my sketches.
Cyanoramphus malherbi is a medium size parrot, approximately 20 centimetres long. Its body is primarily a bright blue-green, with azure blue primary covert and leading edge feathers on its wings.
It has a distinctive (and diagnostic) orange frontal band on its yellow crown, but this is absent in juvenile birds, which have fully green heads. The orange frontal band begins to develop when the bird is 2–5 weeks old. Its rump has orange patches on the sides. Colouration in males tends to be brighter, and juveniles are distinctly duller.
The only reliable features that separate mature orange-fronted parakeets from the similar yellow-crowned parakeet (C. auriceps) are the colour of the frontal band and rump.
Time to draw
A first quick sketch to decide on what I was going to draw:
I started out by checking if the colours worked with the kakapo design - and no, they are quite different colours, although there were a couple of shades in common.
I was cranking to get this all coloured and finished in time for the market this afternoon, and I juuuust made it!
The name "fairy tern" is so endearing
In Te Reo, the names of this bird are tara iti, tara teo, or tara teoteo. "Iti" and "teo" mean tiny. Repeating a syllable is often done in Māori as emphasis. "Tara" means tern, but it also has a lot of other meanings. I like the idea of it being a tiny sharp thing.
These photos of courting tara iti come from the New Zealand Fairy Tern Charitable Trust Facebook page. As with all my other posts, click on the link or the photos to go through to the source site.
Sources and resources
The New Zealand fairy tern/tara iti is probably New Zealand's rarest breeding bird, with a population of around 45 individuals that includes approximately 12 breeding pairs.
It is ranked as an endangered species, and carries a 'Category A' priority for conservation action. A Department of Conservation Recovery Plan is currently in action.
The New Zealand fairy tern is the smallest tern breeding in New Zealand, and the oldest known fairy tern was 18 years old.
Records from the 19th century suggest that NZ fairy terns used to be widespread around the coast of the North Island and eastern South Island, but were not abundant in any one area.
New Zealand fairy terns are now confined to the lower half of the Northland Peninsula. Breeding is limited to four regular sites: Waipu, Mangawhai, Pakiri and the South Kaipara Head.
Nesting in a small scrape in the sand, these delicate sea birds are very vulnerable. Nest sites are roped off and signs erected to alert people to the area.
The tara iti - a description
A small tern with pale grey upperparts, white underparts, a yellow-orange bill, and bright orange legs. A black cap covers the crown and nape extending forward to surround the eye, forming an irregular patch in front of it, but never reaching the bill; a rounded white ‘notch’ projects into the black cap above the eye and connects with the white forehead.
NZ birds online
I'm pretty familiar with this general shape of bird now, so these wee beasts were a quick sketch. Getting the eyes and the feet right was the challenge, as usual.
Linework - sorted. Time to colour the birds! Again, I used a mixture of photo references and previous designs, to ensure colour consistency across the range but to still stay quite true to the real colouration of the bird, too.
There you go, have a tara iti design!
A medium-sized storm petrel, grey above with prominent white rump, dark-grey flight feathers and tail, mainly white underparts, white face with a broad white stripe above the eye, a nearly square cut rather than forked tail when folded, and black legs and yellow webbing. In flight, the wings are broad and the long legs dangling; they move over water in a series of hops striking it with both legs.
Population: perhaps 100-300 pairs.
NZ birds online
Parrots of Aotearoa
There are quite a few species of parrot in New Zealand, some of which are sadly extinct. There are nine surviving species which are endemic to NZ. Two of these species are on our list of the Threatened–Nationally Critical birds to draw in this series (shown in bold). Sadly, several others are also endangered.
These species live on the mainland:
These are the island species:
Extinct endemic species:
Introduced Australian species:
On the internet, kākāpō are famous for the notorious head-shagging incident when Stephen Fry met Sirocco on the BBC.
(Sirocco is) a charismatic kākāpō, national treasure and media superstar. He's also New Zealand's official Spokesbird for conservation.
Sirocco rocketed to fame in 2009 after his encounter with zoologist Mark Carwardine became a YouTube sensation. Carwardine was filming the BBC documentary Last Chance to See with British actor Stephen Fry. Footage showed a rather frisky Sirocco attempting to mate with Carwardine’s head as Fry laughed from the sidelines.
Sources and resources
The common English name "kakapo" comes from the Māori "kākāpō", from kākā ("parrot") + pō ("night"); the name is both singular and plural. "Kākāpō" is increasingly written in New Zealand English with the macrons that indicate long vowels.
The kakapo is the only extant species of flightless parrot in the world, and the only flightless bird that has a lek breeding system. Males loosely gather in an arena and compete with each other to attract females. Females listen to the males as they display, or "lek". They choose a mate based on the quality of his display; they are not pursued by the males in any overt way. No pair bond is formed; males and females meet only to mate.
The kakapo is a large, nocturnal, flightless, lek-breeding parrot – a real oddity. It is also critically endangered, and the focus of considerable conservation attention. Before humans arrived it was common throughout New Zealand’s forests, but predation by introduced mammals brought it to the brink of extinction - a low point of about 50 birds only in the mid 1990s. The transfer of the whole population to predator-free islands and intensive intervention in every stage of its life has led to a steady increase in numbers.
Kakapo have no close relatives.
NZ birds online
What's unusual about kākāpō?
The kākāpō is a large green parrot with a distinctive owl-like face and a waddling gait. They cannot fly, but they climb well.
Anatomy of a parrot
Right, time to focus in on the task at hand - drawing the kākāpō. So, how do they fit together?
The skeleton of the kakapo differs from other parrots in several features associated with flightlessness. Firstly, it has the smallest relative wing size of any parrot. Its wing feathers are shorter, more rounded, less asymmetrical, and have fewer distal barbules to lock the feathers together. [...] The kakapo has a larger pelvis than other parrots. The proximal bones of the leg and arm are disproportionately long and the distal elements are disproportionately short.
OK, so that was a lot of scientific jargon. Basically, little wings, fewer wing feathers, odd leg proportions, and not much of a chest. Got it.
I had a dental procedure under IV sedation today, so while I now have a shiny new tooth, I have spent the day groggy and weird - which is not, unfortunately, conducive to drawing parrots. I have a good idea of what I want to do, but no energy left to do it - so this is where I am stopping for the night.
So I filled out the sketches, and decided that I would develop four into the final designs.
Choosing the colours was fun - and I made sure to keep the palette simple.
It was a lot of fun getting the silly expressions on these funny wee faces. I think they came out ok, too!
Colouring feather by feather took a really long time, though - but I think it looks pretty effective.
Meet the Tokoeka (at the same time as me, lol)
OMG - the tokoeka is a Kiwi! How delightful! I really enjoy being a bit surprised by the subject of my design each day, so I research as I go.
OK, so at first glance, this just looks like "a duck". Like, a normal duck.
Oh dear, there are multiple species called "toroa" on this list, and I didn't realise. Ok, let's make sure that we get the differences between them really clear!
Current thinking divides the albatrosses into four genera. The number of species is a matter of debate. The IUCN and BirdLife International recognise 22 extant species (listed below), ITIS recognise 21 (the 22 below minus T. steadi), and one recent paper proposed a reduction to 13 (indicated in parentheses below), comprising the traditional 14 species minus D. amsterdamensis.
My first thought was: "Magenta petrel" sounds amazing... but the bird is not at all pink or red...
"At sea, one bird was taken as a specimen in 1867 and named the Magenta petrel after the Italian expedition’s ship" - oh.
Today has been a busy day, with errands and earrings taking up most of the daylight. As I finally settle down to draw, El Huzbando is already making our dinner!
Shags have a very distinct silhouette, and, with their amusing name, became one of the only non-forest birds that I could recognise easily - but there are so many species!
The watercolour image below shows the importance of tiny details in making sure each species is correctly represented.
Every day, another bird
It's sometimes hard to get started on a drawing. Generally, I just let myself choose another task, and come back to the drawing when the mood takes me - but I have committed to a bird every weekday, so here we go - my first attempt at overcoming "drawer's block".