In the words of writer Douglas Adams, the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) is "a bird out of time". The following most appropo description of kakapos comes from his 1990 book, Last Chance to See, cowritten by Mark Carwardine:
The kakapo is a bird out of time. If you look one in its large, round, greeny-brown face, it has a look of serenely innocent incomprehension that makes you want to hug it and tell it that everything will be all right, though you know that it probably will not be.
It is an extremely fat bird. A good-sized adult will weigh about six or seven pounds, and its wings are just about good for waggling a bit if it thinks it's about to trip over something - but flying is completely out of the question. Sadly, however, it seems that not only has the kakapo forgotten how to fly, but it has also forgotten that it has forgotten how to fly. Apparently 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.
By and large, though, the kakapo has never learnt to worry. It's never had anything much to worry about.
Most birds, faced with a predator, will at least realise that something's up and make a bolt for safety, even if it means abandoning any eggs or chicks in its nest - but not the kakapo. Its reaction when confronted with a predator is that it simply doesn't know what the form is. It has no conception of the idea that anything could possibly want to hurt it, so it tends just to sit on its nest in a state of complete confusion and leaves the other animal to make the next move - which is usually a fairly swift and final one.
A most remarkable parrot, and yet, due to the same unfortunate series of human-perpetuated historical events that has left all of New Zealand's endemic birds at critical risk of extinction (hunting, introduction of invasive species, habitat loss, etc.) as of July 2011, the kakapo population stands at just 131 individuals... There are more bones in the human body than there are kakapos on the planet. A heart-sinking tally, but when you consider just how vulnerable the poor little fellows are in the face of modern threats, it's no wonder they nearly vanished. In 1899, the Westland explorer, Charlie Douglas, had the following to say about the ridiculous ease of catching a kakapo:
They could be caught in the moonlight, when on the low scrub, by simply shaking the tree or bush until they tumbled on the ground, something like shaking down apples. I have seen as many as half a dozen kakapos shaken off one tutu bush this way.
Vulnerable as it sounds, 131 is actually an accomplished number, since as recently as the 70s, the species was thought to have dissappeared completely. Only through scouring the most remote habitats remaining in the fjordlands of the South Island did conservationists begin to discover and collect lone survivors. Those rare specimens were carefully relocated to offshore sanctuaries, where there was no threat of them becoming stoat or weasel snacks, and where they could resume their very specialized lifestyle. The current 131 birds are known, by number and in most cases by name, and monitored non-stop by a team of biologists with the newly formed Kakapo Recovery Programme -members rotate lonely shifts on the remote sanctuary islands, patrolling, watching, recording.
Every successful campaign needs a mascot, and for the Kakapo Recovery Programme, a young male named Sirocco rose to the ocassion. In a stroke of uncoached brilliance, Sirocco single-handedly brought the plight of his kind to world-wide attention when he took an intense shine to a BBC zoologist/photographer in 2009, during the filming of a televised version of Last Chance to See. The resulting video footage went viral immediately - the title should say it all: "Shagged by a rare parrot".
For context, dear Sirocco suffered a serious respiratory illness when he was a chick, requiring him to be hand-reared. The process caused him to imprint on humans, and sadly, he now has no interest in other kakapos - an unfortunate circumstance in terms of propagating his species, but it does make him a stellar spokesbird for the Recovery Programme, since he delights in human interaction. Since 2006, Sirocco has been visited by school children, put on special exhibit at multiple sanctuaries and Zoos around New Zealand, and world-wide fans can follow him on facebook. In the name of 131 kakapos, Godspeed, Sirocco, Godspeed.
For more kakapo goodness, here's a fun kakapo podcast; and for more detail about the kakapo's "booming and chinging" (including video of the vocalization), check out this site, and the Kakapo Recovery Programme's "breeding" information page.
Above: 1. a diagram of the male kakapo during "booming"; 2. a kakapo walking a "track" through it's luscious terrestrial environment, photo by Shane McInnes; 3. a Nicaraguan stamp featuring a kakapo; 4. a close-up of the kakapo's mottled, earthy-green plumage, shot by Dr. Paddy Ryan; 5. a vintage illustration of a Kakapo by Walter Lawry Buller, Birds of New Zealand, 1873; 6. a head-on portrait, making the kakapo's owly likeness evident, copyright NZPA; and 7. a gorgeous shot of a kakapo peeking through the underbrush, shot by Dr. Paddy Ryan.