Flightless parrot has sex with a human

Infinitely depressed at the thought of the National Academy of Sciences serving as the venue for the Templeton Prize, I sought refuge in biology: in particular, the always-adorable kakapo (Strigops habroptila).  Hailing from New Zealand, this is the world’s only flightless parrot, and Douglas Adams described it thusly:

It is an exceptionally fat bird (a good-sized adult weighs roughly two or three kilograms) and its wings are just about good enough to waggle about a bit if it thinks it’s going to trip over. But flying is completely out of the question.

Strangely, not only has it forgotten how to fly, it also seems to have forgotten that it has forgotten how to fly. Legend has it that a seriously worried kakapo will sometimes run up a tree and jump out of it, whereupon it flies like a brick and lands in a graceless heap on the ground.

Kakapos are highly endangered, with only about 60 remaining in the wild (read about them here), and they’ve been transferred to two islands to remove them from introduced predators, like cats, who can easily catch these tubby, flightless birds. (Remember that they evolved flightlessness when New Zealand was free from predators.)

So, here’s a randy male kakapo (“Sirocco”: there are so few that they’ve all been named) mistaking a photographer—zoologist Mark Carwardine—for another kakapo. Stephen Fry stands by and describes the unholy act. This is from the wonderful BBC film, “Last chance to see.”

h/t: The grad students at Texas State, who brought this video to my attention.

25 Comments

  1. TheBlackCat
    Posted March 23, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t know they made a TV version of Last Chance to See!!! I assume it’s based on the book?

    • Thanny
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 12:24 am | Permalink

      As I read it, the photographer in the clip above is the one who went out with Douglas Adams while researching the book. Stephen Fry was friends with Douglas, and after some amount of discussion, the two of them decided to revisit the endangered species from the book, to see how they’ve been doing since.

  2. Posted March 23, 2010 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    At least he’s not covert about his intentions, unlike a priest.

  3. Tacroy
    Posted March 23, 2010 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Oh man, the expression on that parrot’s face is probably one of the most hilarious things I’ve seen all week.

  4. bueller007
    Posted March 23, 2010 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    There are 123 remaining in the wild, no?
    http://www.kakaporecovery.org.nz/

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 25, 2010 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      I am not sure, as the website I link to in my post says there are 62 birds left.

  5. Thanny
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    I’d encourage everyone to watch the kakapo portion of David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds, where you get to see its rather impressive (in my opinion) mating call.

    • Posted March 24, 2010 at 2:07 am | Permalink

      Douglas also describes its mating call in the book- it’s a hilarious passage.

  6. Jonn Mero
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    This is one episode of a series that Stephen Fry and that other guy had about rare and endangered animals.
    BBC at its best! And that is seriously good!

  7. Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    I am very doubtful of Adams’ claim that

    “Strangely, not only has it forgotten how to fly, it also seems to have forgotten that it has forgotten how to fly. Legend has it that a seriously worried kakapo will sometimes run up a tree and jump out of it, whereupon it flies like a brick and lands in a graceless heap on the ground.”

    What possible evolutionary advantage could this behaviour have? It would risk injury. Why should flying behaviour not atrophy at the same rate as the wings? I strongly suspect that the inventor of the Improbability Drive invented this Improbable behaviour. Dawkins quotes Adams in The Greatest Show on Earth, but I think it needs better attestation. The only non-Adams quote I can find (www.kakaporecovery.org.nz) refers to “young birds”. I can imagine they have to learn not to fly, just as children fall before they can walk.

    Informatively, the name means “night parrot” (po = night, kaka = parrot – almost all Maori bird names are onomatapoeic) and all the vowels are long; “kaa-kaa-paw” not “kækapoh”.

    • Fraser
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      I think the important words in that paragraph are “Legend has it”. It’s not so much a claim, as it is a retelling of something he heard.

    • TheBlackCat
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      “What possible evolutionary advantage could this behaviour have? ”

      About the same as mating with a primate’s head. A better question is, considering the lack of predators, what reason would they have to lose this instinct? It confers no adaptative disadvantage since they wouldn’t encounter predators, and unlike wings which are full of energy-guzzling muscle it does not take any resources to maintain. So I would not see it disappearing.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 24, 2010 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        Unless it is locked in, it could eventually disappear by genetic drift in the absence of selection, wouldn’t it? But no telling how likely that would be or how fast that would happen, I guess.

        – AnotherBlackCat.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted March 24, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          Um, I mean locked in up and above already being fixated.

  8. MadScientist
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    That’d be something to put on the CV: I am so dedicated to my work that I let a parrot rape me. Is the parrot’s misguided reproductive instincts part of the reason for its endangered status?

    • SaintStephen
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 3:11 am | Permalink

      Either misguided reproductive instincts, or there are some mighty big unseen parrots walking around in that jungle…

  9. NewEnglandBob
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    I’ve seen this video before but it is still amusing.

  10. Posted March 24, 2010 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    I pity Americans for their lack of BBC-ness. Currently, there is being broadcast a beautiful 5-part series called “Wonders of the solar system” presented by Brian Cox, which everyone should see. There’s also “Richard Hammond’s Invisible Worlds”, the title of which might make you suspicious of its quality if you’ve seen Brainiac, but it’s quite a step up and I thoroughly enjoyed the first two parts.

    Furthermore, QI.

    • ilvil
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      Agreed. Don’t forget we (UK people)also had quite wonderful series called “Life” presented by David Attenborough last autumn. After watching all these great BBC productions I start to get really angry whenever anyone proposes abolishing licence fee and putting BBC on commercial footing.

    • llewelly
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      I pity Americans for their lack of BBC-ness.

      I pity soulless Europeans who will clearly go straight to Hell for pushing their nasty socialism on this God-fearing Christian nation.

  11. Posted March 24, 2010 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    That just made my morning. Especially when Stephen Fry was saying “But look how happy he is”.

  12. Dan Warren
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Last Chance To See is an amazing show, and the original book was one of the main reasons I became a biologist.

  13. Selena
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    They didn’t mention collection of semen from Sirocco the kakapo (“Last Chance to See” page 213, updated version). Also there is a very cute kakapo photo on the page 221.

    Boom… Boom

  14. Hempenstein
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    This may be an illustration of the dangers of raising endangered species – they bond with humans and regard themselves as humans. Or, I recall hearing when once in NZ some yrs back that kakapos will attack anything new to their environment, such as a trashcan placed where none has been before, or even a car parked in a new place. I have a friend with a red-bellied parrot that displays some of the same behavior toward anything out of place, but said R-BP doesn’t go so far as trying to mate – he’s content to try to pierce your ear, and does a pretty good job of it.

    Anyway, good to learn from that site posted above that the number of kakapos on the planet has increased by nearly 50% in the past few yrs.


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  1. […] This is a funny article about parrots: this particular type has “forgotten” how to fly and, at times, “forgot that it forgot” how to fly. And yes, there is a hilarious video (yes, a very sex-starved male parrot) […]

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