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  • Madeline Mitchell

"Owl Parrot"

The Kakapo, nicknamed the 'owl Parrot' due to their intelligent parrot-like look and forward facing owlish eyes, can best be described as the least bird-like bird to exist. It is fluffy (fat), flightless, nocturnal, whiskered and overall a hot-mess of what an avian species should be... but it is pretty damn cute.


Though it seems counterintuitive to their plump size (males can be anywhere from 4 to 8 lbs!), Kakapo are entirely vegetarian. Their diet includes, leaves, buds, flowers, fern fronds, bark, roots, rhizomes, bulbs, fruit and seeds. When scavenging, they forage on the ground and are able to climb trees, jumping and flapping their wings (more as a controlled fall than actual flying) from tree to tree. Their large eyes allow them to see at night while the feather 'disks' around their eyes help them to hear better.



The species, once populating all of New Zealand, now resides only on predator free islands. After the introduction of predation (rats, feral cats, etc.) by European travelers, the species once abundant population plummeted to as low as 50 in the 1990s. Nowadays, conservation efforts have managed to raise the numbers up to 213 as of 2019. The difficulty lies in the fact that the birds mate and breed only once every 2 to 4 years in correlation with the blooming of rimu fruit trees.

The birds also essentially have no survival skills against predators, in fact, explorer Charlie Douglas once wrote that "they could be caught in the moonlight by simply shaking the tree or bush until they tumbled to the ground, like shaking down apples". A lack of protection against predators combined with their low breeding rates doesn't bode well for the Kakapo. However, what they do have going for them is an impressive longevity in lifespan. Most live to be at least sixty years old and it is believed that they could live to be over a hundred years old, making them the longest living birds on the planet.


"Owl Parrot", 18"x24" oil on canvas.

Painting the "Owl Parrot" was one of the most enjoyable works I've done. Their bright, vibrant colors and overall weirdness is just plan fascinating to me. They are chubby, fluffy and bright and somehow still manage to convey a keen sense of intelligence. The eyes are the most important part of this work, shifting our perception of the bird from just a technicolor oddity to a more dignified, interesting creature. The eyes draw you in and convey an unexpected depth to the funny little birds than would be expected.

The persistence in the survival of these birds as well as the conservation efforts put into them is admirable to say the least. There is, quite honestly, no good rational reason as to how these strange, little guys have survived this long, but there is something about them (perhaps because they shouldn't still be around) that captures our hearts and encourages us to continue to fight for their survival.


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