This is a kea. Isn't he cute? Happy, little green parrot…tra la la.
Happy, little green parrot who calmly burrows through the still-living flesh of sheep and dines upon their kidney fat while they lay bleating in terror. No, really. You can see a video here. Watch Clip 4, starting about two minutes in.
And now, the context….
Kea are incredibly intelligent mountain parrots, native to New Zealand. Most of the time, they eat the sort of things you'd expect parrots to eat: Berries, nectar, insects. But that food is in short supply during the winter months, and kea–while they do migrate from mountain tops down into the warmer valleys–don't fly away to summer climes. Plus, the encroachment of ranches, farms and cities drove off a lot of their traditional food sources over the last few centuries. So, in winter, the birds are sometimes forced to get creative about their meals. And that's where the sheep come in.
Unsurprisingly, ranchers are not pleased. There've been legends of sheep-killing parrots since the early days of European colonization in New Zealand. Kea were killed off in droves and even had a bounty on their heads for a while. Ironically, though, a lot of people claimed the legends were just that, right up until kea were caught on film, dining on sheep in 1993—seven years after conservationists won a hard-fought battle to protect the birds against the threat of hunting and extermination. Today, they're still a protected species, but their numbers are also still on the decline—thanks to habitat loss, falling prey to other animals, and sometimes deadly human attempts to keep the inquisitive (and frequently destructive birds) away from cars and bicycles.
The keas' story is a complicated tale of what happens when humans tamper with nature…and nature tampers back. Great stuff. Thanks to Nathan Torkington for the video link!