Misleading posts claim New Zealand’s endangered bird species Kākāpō can barely walk

Kākāpō cannot fly but they can walk and climb

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Claim: The Kākāpō, a species of endangered bird found in New Zealand, can barely walk. The birds also mate with rocks. 

Fact: According to the Department of Conservation (New Zealand), Kākāpō can walk and climb well. They do not mate with rocks.

Fact or Fiction?

Kākāpō are a critically endangered species found in New Zealand. They are a flightless large green parrot with a distinctive owl-like face and a waddling gait.

This post by verified Facebook page IFL Science, published 3 October 2021 and containing some misleading claims about the Kākāpō bird, was sent to Soch Fact Check.

It was also shared by some other Facebook pages including The Credible Hulk and Real Facts.

To trace the original source of this claim, a CrowdTangle analysis was conducted which revealed that the claim appeared in the following tweet (which has now been deleted) by WTF Facts published 17 April 2021:

“Often seen as the most useless bird on the planet, the Kākāpō can’t fly and can barely walk. To attract females, the male will dig a hole and sit in it, shouting loudly at any female passing by. Rarely does this work, so it waddles off to find a rock and humps that instead.

The aforementioned tweet went viral after it was retweeted by Twitter user MattWillPost, who has a verified Twitter account.

The original tweet was shared again on 6 January 2022 by WTF Facts.

Soch Fact Check found some of the claims in the tweet to be misleading and contacted the Department of Conservation in New Zealand to verify the information.

Bronwyn Jeynes, Rangers-Kakapo Advocacy and Logistics at the Department of Conservation, debunked the claims.

She said, “Kākāpō are flightless but are very good walkers and climbers. They have dense leg bones and can cover many kilometres in a night.Males scrape a shallow bowl in the ground where they ‘boom’ from (you couldn’t describe it as singing). The booming attracts females but they can be quite choosy about who they’ll select. Male kākāpō when full of hormones will attempt to mate with things other than female kākāpō but it’s usually something that appears at or near their bowl (such as sea birds, people, monitoring gear).”

Jeynes also said that breeding is not a regular every year occurrence  for Kākāpō because they only breed during the mass fruiting of rimu trees as this provides food for chicks. 

Kakapo Recovery, which leads conservation efforts for the bird, confirmed to Soch Fact Check that the tweet about Kākāpō is “not accurate, and is largely satire, and meant to be funny rather than factual”. They also said, “Kākāpō are very adept at walking and climbing; they can run very fast, and climb up very high trees.”

Kākāpō do not mate with rocks,” they clarified.

Virality

According to a CrowdTangle analysis conducted by Soch Fact Check, the search term, “Often seen as the most useless bird on the planet, the Kākāpō can’t fly and can barely walk,” has garnered 83,803 interactions across 61 posts over the last 12 months.

The analysis further revealed that the interactions peaked between 3 October and 9 October 2021. 

During the same month, IFL Science’s post gained significant traction; 45,000 likes, 2,800 comments and 6,400 comments. It also performed better than other similar posts.

Meanwhile, The Credible Hulk’s post published 2 December 2021 received 3,100 likes, 277 comments and 641 shares.

The oldest post, by Real Facts, dates back to 17 April 2021.

Conclusion: According to the relevant experts, Kākāpō cannot fly but can walk and climb quite proficiently. They also do not mate with rocks. Viral posts that say otherwise are false and misleading.

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