Like much of New Zealand’s bird life, the famous Kea parrot is very unique.
Parrots are usually thought of as tropical and sub-tropical birds. But Kea are essentially a parrot of the alpine environment on New Zealand’s south island.
Female & Male Kea Differences
It isn’t glaringly obvious at first which Kea might be male or female. You normally need a slightly longer and closer look, although with practice you soon get a feel for determining the adult males from the females.
The female Kea is a smaller bird than the male Kea. Her beak is also shorter. Again, you probably won’t be able to notice this in birds flying by, but with some decent photos or a closer look you might have the satisfaction of being able to identify male and female Kea.
Young (juvenile) Kea are paler in colour on top, and have yellow around the eye.
Do not feed Kea!
No matter how tempting it might be, or how much you think they might want some of your food, for their sake and yours simply don’t provide or throw any food to Kea.
Feeding Kea is harmful to their health. It’s also harmful to their behaviour, as they start to depend on humans for handouts.
So where and when are the best places to see Kea on the South Island?
While there are some very well known and popular spots, the fact is that Kea can be found (with luck and good timing) almost right down the west coast of the island.
From the north west of Able Tasman National Park and Mount Arthur, down to the hotspot region of Arthur’s Pass, through to Franz Josef and down to Mt Aspiring National Park.
Then down to Milford Sound and sparser sightings down throughout Fiordland and Southland.
This means you don’t have to stick with the the more heavily visited locations.
If you want to try and experience Kea in a less human visited area, it might take more time and effort but the rewards can make it well worth it. Even if you miss out on spotting Kea, the stunning scenery all along the west coast is not going to disappoint.
There’s even been a couple of odd reports of Kea near Christchurch in February 2023. But Christchurch is outside the usual range of Kea, so don’t expect to see any near the city.
These are some of the best and easiest places to see wild Kea in the NZ South Island alpine region:
State Highway 94 / Milford Road
Stop off at one of the car parking areas along the Milford Hwy and you have a relatively high chance of seeing Kea.
Or look out the window while driving along (as a passenger only!).
The Homer Tunnel Parking Area is a good spot.
Stop at the Gertrude Valley Lookout and you could be rewarded with a Kea sighting.