Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Life in the city: the influence of the urban environment on behaviour and spatial distributions in North Island kākā (Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis)

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posted on 2022-11-17, 02:21 authored by Armstrong, Isaac

Urban environments are increasing in size and influence across the landscape of the world. As cities increase in number, size, and population, the influence that these modified anthropogenic spaces and the humans dwelling within them have on wildlife is becoming increasingly intense. More frequent interactions between humans and wildlife have driven species to either adapt, tolerate, or avoid urban spaces entirely. While the impacts of urban life on avifauna have been well studied globally, little is known about the response of the endemic forest-dwelling birds of New Zealand to the novel challenges presented by cities. Furthermore, the majority of existing studies have focused on northern hemisphere passerine species. The naive endemic avifauna of New Zealand, including the many threatened psittacine (parrot) species, have been subject to limited study regarding habituation and response to urban landscapes. Understanding how wildlife responds to urban environments, and the factors that drive differences in behaviour and space use, is essential to managing urban populations and planning future reintroductions of wildlife into cities.

North Island kākā (Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis) were reintroduced to Wellington City in 2002, with the release of six individuals into Zealandia ecosanctuary. Kākā are a deeply endemic, threatened forest-dwelling parrot species The population has since grown and expanded across many suburbs of the city, increasing the frequency of interaction between kākā and both the urban environment, and people. This thesis investigates the influence of the urban environment and human presence on the spatial distribution, behaviour, and risk perception of kākā in the Wellington and the Kāpiti Coast Regions of New Zealand. The findings of this thesis show that human presence and the urban environment did not directly influence the distribution or behaviour of kākā. Time of day strongly influenced investment in vigilance and foraging behaviour, and land cover type strongly affected investment in foraging and preening behaviour. Urban land cover was not significant in explaining differences in behaviour. Time of day was the most significant explanatory factor for the relative abundances of kākā observed. The distribution of kākā throughout the landscape was also strongly influenced by the presence of Zealandia, with far greater densities and relative abundances of kākā within the sanctuary compared to the urban reserves of Wellington city. Overall, findings in this study suggest that kākā behaviour and distributions are much more strongly influenced by resource availability than by human presence and the urban environment directly. Further research should be conducted to investigate the risk perception and behavioural flexibility of urban kākā. This is especially important for the ongoing management of Wellington’s kākā population, and to better inform future urban reintroduction efforts.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY-SA 4.0

Degree Discipline

Ecology and Biodiversity

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Centre for Biodiversity & Restoration of Ecology

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Biological Sciences


Shaw, Rachael