The Kea (Nestor notabilis) is a curious parrot inhabiting the mountain ranges of the Middle Island of New Zealand. It belongs to the family of Brush-tongued parrots, and naturally feeds on the honey of flowers and the insects which frequent them, together with such fruits or berries as are found in the region. Till quite recently this comprised its whole diet, but since the country it inhabits has become occupied by Europeans it has developed a taste for a carnivorous diet, with alarming results. It began by picking the sheepskins hung out to dry or the meat in process of being cured. About 1868 it was first observed to attack living sheep, which had frequently been found with raw and bleeding wounds on their backs. Since then it is stated that the bird actually burrows into the living sheep, eating its way down to the kidneys, which form its special delicacy. As a natural consequence, the bird is being destroyed as rapidly as possible, and one of the rare and curious members of the New Zealand fauna will no doubt shortly cease to exist. The case affords a remarkable instance of how the climbing feet and powerful hooked beak developed for one set of purposes can be applied to another altogether different purpose, and it also shows how little real stability there may be in what appear to us the most fixed habits of life. A somewhat similar change of diet has been recorded by the Duke of Argyll, in which a goose, reared by a golden eagle, was taught by its foster-parent to eat flesh, which it continued to do regularly and apparently with great relish.
Change of habits appears to be often a result of imitation, of which Mr. Tegetmeier gives some good examples. He states that if pigeons are reared exclusively with small grain, as wheat or barley, they will starve before eating beans. But when they are thus starving, if a bean-eating pigeon is put among them, they follow its example, and thereafter adopt the habit. So fowls sometimes refuse to eat maize, but on seeing others eat it, they do the same and become excessively fond of it. Many persons have found that their yellow crocuses were eaten by sparrows, while the blue, purple, and white coloured varieties were left untouched; but Mr. Tegetmeier, who grows only these latter colours, found that after
- Nature, vol xix. p554.