Charlie Douglas, explorer extraordinaire, in his 1899 monologue on birds:

‘Unlike the Kakas, who have a dozen different cries, the Kea has just one, weird, Key-a Key-a, hence its name. Sounding like the wail of a lost spirit, the cry is rather a startling sensation while climbing a dangerous precipice, suggesting a possible corpse lying a thousand feet below, with the kea standing on the head picking out the eyes … Every time a fellow goes among the ranges he sees some new antic or piece of impudence among the keas. They have taken to sliding down the roofs of the iron huts the government have put up for tourists, taking time about at the amusement.’


‘Glissading on Four Peaks’ by Jim Dennistoun, The Press, 3 October 1908:

‘We heard a kea down below us while we were resting, and the snow and rock around us and the plaintive cry of the kea made me think I was back at Mount Cook with all its joys. There are very few of these birds in the front hills now, and we were quite surprised to see him. There is something very fascinating to me in the cry of a kea or the call of a Paradise duck to his mate. They seem to accentuate the hugeness of the mountains and the wide spaces of the great river-beds, which make you feel so small and solitary.’


‘Alpine Notes’ New Zealand Alpine Journal 1928–31:

‘There must be very few mountaineers who would not view the passing of these birds with genuine regret, for, mischievous though they are, they provide endless amusement by their queer antics and almost human understanding. It is particularly to be regretted that protection has been withdrawn in the national reserves, where they have in past years endeared themselves to thousands of visitors, and have become so tame that they willingly come to the slaughter. There are many localities where the kea have never seen sheep, and yet here they are being needlessly killed off.’


Captain Val Sanderson, founder of the Native Bird Protection Society, defended kea in a letter to the Rodney and Otamatea Times, 31 August 1938:

‘The occupiers of sub-alpine country in the South Island knew the conditions before they went on the bleak highlands and they had no right to expect the general public to help them in their campaign against keas, which assisted nature to conserve the surface of steep slopes. In the ordinary course, the birds helped to distribute the seeds of plants which formed a protective cover when man and his animals did not interfere with nature’s way.’


‘Garden of Eden’, Auckland Star, 11 January 1939. Two Canterbury Mountaineering Club members, Stan Forbes and A H Scotney, on the first ascent of the Great Unknown:

‘While the party was encamped on the Perth after crossing the col a party of 10 keas arrived and in their insolent manner took charge of the situation. They took up a position a few feet from the tent. Broadsides of rocks made little difference; they came back as truculent as ever, although two of their numbers were on the retired list. While the campers were having their evening meal the keas took up a strategic position on a huge rock above the tent and amused themselves by pushing small boulders with their beaks on to their enemies. “There was a constant shower of missiles and we had to move out of the way,” said Mr. Forbes. “In the meantime the wretched keas were chortling with delight.” ’


John Pascoe, from Unclimbed New Zealand, 1939:

‘Kea added variety to camp life. They ate a crampon strap, chewed the tongue out of my boot, and generally tore holes in my tent. We killed two of the younger birds and ate them in a succulent stew of garlic and rice.’


‘Climbers Owe Much to the Wild Life’ by H McD. Vincent, Auckland Star, 14 July 1945:

‘I once tried to dry out my socks on a mountain ledge. A kea grabbed one of them. It was over the edge as I caught the other end of the sock. After a tussle it let go, but for half an hour afterwards it circled in noisy protest. All it said was “kea-ar, kea-ar,” but the tone would have made a policeman blush.’


‘Our Friend the Kea’ New Zealand Alpine Club Bulletin No. 8, March 1949:

‘Mountaineers and all lovers of our irrepressible comedian the kea will be gratified to learn that the bounty has been removed from the kea as from the 30th November last for the whole County of Westland and he is now a protected bird, and it is on us all as climbers and lovers of our friend to act as honorary rangers and stop wherever we can in this area the wonton destruction, or blood money, of this lovable New Zealand native bird. We know he has his bad habits among sheep but he does no harm in his native habitat in the alpine regions of Westland where there are no sheep. He does, in fact, help to preserve his native country by sowing of the right kind of seeds on scree and other barren country which is rapidly finding its way into our rivers and which fact has been apparently admitted by the responsible Government Ministers and Departments whilst there were co-operating with the New Zealand Forest and Bird Protection Society who were responsible for having this protection instigated and carried to a fruitful conclusion. So our sons and grandsons can still hope to hear that plaintive “cawing” which pulls at the heart strings and which helps to make an alpine holiday more complete, for some time to come.’


Mountaineer and author Philip Temple, wrote a wonderful children’s book about kea, Beak of the Moon, and also played a prominent role getting full protection for the species, which finally resulted in 1986. In his The Book of the Kea (1996), Temple wrote:

‘It is hard to conjure up an image of New Zealand’s mountains without them – these rough, tough parrots with an eye for the main chance, delighting everyone with their monkey-like antics. But they have a dark side: these inquisitive, playful jokers, it seems, are also feathered devils.’


These quotes were collated by Shaun Barnett from various books, as well as articles gleaned on Papers Past (, the article first appeared in the FMC Bulletin – June 2013