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Meet our Curious, Charismatic and Clever Keas!

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Keas are native to the forested and alpine regions of the South Island of New Zealand, making them the world’s only Alpine parrots. Keas are known for their intelligence, curiosity, mischief and loud, squealing vocalizations! As a matter of fact, their name is believed to come from the Māori people, mimicking the sounds of the birds’ vocalizations—and if you’ve heard it before you’ll recognize that almost ear-splitting “KEEEEE-AAAAHHHH” call!

Keas are very hardy birds, well adapted to a cold alpine climate. They are mostly olive-green in color with bright orange feathers on the undersides of their wings and they have a long, narrow, curved, gray beak—great for manipulating things, digging through bark and plucking insects out of crevasses. Woodland Park Zoo is currently home to four of these feisty birds: males Squint, Mahoihoi and Jean Luc and female Teptep.

Keas are mostly olive-green with bright orange feathers under their wings and a long, narrow, curved beak. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Jean Luc is 29 years old (yes, Star Trek fans, he was named after THAT Jean Luc) and hatched at a zoo in New England before making his way to Seattle nearly 13 years ago. We hear that Jean Luc tends to be the most “mellow” of our keas, but quickly becomes the loudest of the bunch when he wants attention. He loves to “engage” (#iykyk #sttng) in training sessions, and certainly enjoys the yummy treats that come with it!

At 40 years old, Mahoihoi—who just celebrated his “hatch day” on August 23—is the oldest of the keas that have an identified hatch date (Squint is actually older, but we don't know exactly when he hatched) and he is the father of Teptep. Mahoihoi is overall healthy, but he does have a chronic condition that causes feather loss—and our animal care crew, including our veterinary staff, regularly work with him to make sure all his needs are met. It might make him look a little different from the other keas at times, but otherwise he is doing well and is an active member of his flock.

Our keas all live together where they can socialize, play, and do kea stuff. We're in the process of planning a brand new habitat for them as part of our Forests for All campaign. Photo: Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo

Teptep, the only female in our group, hatched right here at Woodland Park Zoo and is 16 years old. She is a very choosy and opinionated bird—tending to be a little stand-offish with new items in her habitat (and even with new animal keepers working in her area) until she sees the other birds engaging. Then, once she has decided the new item (or person) is A-OK, she will claim it as hers! Teptep is also known for LOVING her bath time pampering sessions as evidenced by this video clip (below). It’s from a couple years ago, but this kind of sheer joy is certainly worth re-sharing!
And finally, there’s Squint. As previously mentioned, we don’t know exactly how old he is because record keeping was all done by hand when he hatched in the 1960s and it’s harder to track. He came to Woodland Park Zoo from San Diego Zoo five years ago and was already an adult when he arrived there from New Zealand in 1968. Existing records from Wellington Zoo suggest he may have hatched as far back as 1965 or 1966. This would make him possibly 57 or 58 years old—one of the oldest keas in human care in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited conservation zoo. As many of you know, parrots are very intelligent and long-lived animals and there are even a couple keas in the North American population that hatched in the 1940s. Squint’s age (and that of his older “cousins” at our sister institutions) is a testament to the amazing care our staff is able to offer through a proper diet, expert veterinary care, and lots of enrichment to keep these boisterous birds mentally and physically active!

Keas are extraordinarily intelligent and need plenty of time to explore, play, manipulate objects and
problem solve. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Intelligent birds like keas need plenty of time to explore, play and problem solve. This is where enrichment comes in, to exercise their minds and bodies. Enrichment is an important aspect of animal health here at Woodland Park Zoo—encouraging each animal’s natural behaviors like foraging, browsing, hunting, playing, seeking out new scents and marking territories. For the keas this includes lots of tactile manipulation, i.e., opportunities to have fun tearing things apart. You can even get involved in the fun! A couple times a week zoo guests can help build enrichment items for the keas using materials like twine, cardboard, paper, wood blocks, egg cartons and other similar things. Then you can watch as our animal keepers share your creations with the keas and see them do their “kea thing,” tearing apart what you just built! To learn if this activity is offered on the day you’re planning to visit, please check out or take a look at the daily activity board* at zoo entrances when you arrive to see the schedule of activities for that day.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Enrichment activities for these busy birds also include training time with our skilled animal keepers! These sessions—which allow each bird to voluntarily take part in their own health care—are always meant to be fun and include lots of yummy snacks for positive reinforcement. Behaviors such as stepping on a scale, presenting a foot, or spinning slowly in a circle allow our animal keepers to carefully observe each bird’s condition and monitor health to meet any medical needs.

When it comes to mealtime, there are lots of foods on the menu for these parrots. Keas are omnivores, meaning they eat a wide variety of plant and animal foods. In their natural habitat, this can include everything from leaves, nectar, fruit, roots and seeds to bugs, larvae, baby birds of other species and small mammals. They will even scavenge from deer, sheep carcasses and garbage left out by humans.

Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Here at Woodland Park Zoo, our keas’ daily feasts include fruits like grapes, banana, papaya, pear, melon, orange and apple; veggies like broccoli, romaine, corn on the cob, chard or spinach, beets, carrot and yam; and proteins such as hard-boiled eggs, meatballs, wax worms, peanut butter, a variety of nuts with sunflower seeds and several kinds of dry mixes with kibble and specialized bird food. We hear their favorite treats include worms and hard-boiled egg yolks!

Around one-third of all parrot species are threatened with extinction, and many are endangered, including the kea. That’s why these special birds are part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) population—a cooperative breeding program overseen by the AZA to help ensure healthy, self-sustaining populations in North America

Our upcoming Forests for All exhibit experience, which will be completed by 2026, will highlight the need to protect forest habitats for a multitude of species, including the kea. Rendering of what the new kea habitat could look like provided by LMN Architects.

They are endangered in their alpine forest home range in New Zealand where efforts are underway to protect them from threats such as human activity and introduced predators like possums, stoats and domestic housecats. Keas are one of the species critical to Woodland Park Zoo’s new Forests for All campaign. The new forest exhibit experience, which will be completed by 2026, will highlight the need to protect forest habitats for species such as the kea from New Zealand, Matschie’s tree kangaroo from Papua New Guinea and red panda from Nepal. Learn more about these endangered faces of the forest and our community movement to protect them at

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

  • A group of keas is known as a “circus”... very appropriate for a parrot also known as the “clown of the mountains.”
  • Communication between keas involves a diverse combination of vocalizations, body and feather postures and displays.
  • The feather colors under a kea’s wings are visible in the ultraviolet spectrum. Keas—like many other birds and lots of other species—can see colors on the UV spectrum that we cannot see.
  • Like all parrots, the kea has zygodactyl feet with four toes on each foot—two that point forward and two that point backward. This allows them to grip and manipulate things, to climb and to even hang upside down!


Anonymous said…
Thank you! That was very interesting.