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Vitamin D discovery may rescue the Kakapo from extinction

Posted on: November 12, 2015   by  John Cannell, MD


The Kakapo, a large nocturnal, forest dwelling and flightless parrot native to New Zealand, is under severe threat of extinction.


The birds breed only in years when the native rimu trees are fruiting heavily, with the fruit being the preferred food both for breeding females and for growing chicks. The birds will climb 20-meter high trees to eat the berries during breeding season.

For unknown reasons, the birds will usually not breed in captivity, even when fed a high calcium diet. A group from down-under may have discovered why.

Von Hurst PR, Moorhouse RJ, Raubenheimer D.Preferred natural food of breeding Kakapo is a high value source of calcium and vitamin D. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2015 Oct 26. pii: S0960-0760(15)30119-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2015.10.017. Review.

Dr. Pamela Von Hurst and colleagues had the brilliant idea of analyzing these rimu berries for vitamin D content. The berries are loaded with vitamin D. Also, it is not all plant based vitamin D (D2); the berries have significant amounts of vitamin D3 as well, about 15% of the total was D3.

They were able to measure the vitamin D levels of some parrots in captivity and found their vitamin D levels were almost undetectable. Mean vitamin D status of the 10 adult birds was 2 ng/ml (5 nmol/L). Given the importance of vitamin D in fertility, this finding offered a plausible explanation as to why parrots in captivity do not breed.

What was really amazing was the amount of vitamin D these chicks get from eating rimu berries. The authors report growing chicks will consume 550 g of rimu fruit per day and given their analysis of the vitamin D content of the berries, the rapidly growing chicks appear to be getting about 18,000 IU of vitamin D daily!

4 Responses to Vitamin D discovery may rescue the Kakapo from extinction

  1. Rita Celone Umile

    This is very cool. Thanks for this post. 🙂 Maybe we all should include rimu berries in our diets!

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  2. Tom Weishaar

    I recently had a paper reviewed in which I also said that vitamin D2 comes from plants. One of the reviewers corrected that – D2 comes from yeast and fungi. Like animals, plants produce D3. See this paper:


    This may also explain the mystery of missing vitamin D discussed in this article:


    The authors of that paper suggested meat is the missing source of vitamin D, but in that case those who eat meat should have higher levels than vegetarians, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

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  3. Ron Carmichael

    I’m soooooo bummmmed! Here we have the beginnings of a great story with huge potential, and I’m left hanging! Did they then administer cholecalciferol to the adults birds, to get them “in the mood”? Or put them in a UV-B rich environment? Add D drops to their water, or put it on their rimu fruit jelly sandwiches? Is there hope for the species? Did they ACT on their knowledge, in other words??

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  4. Rebecca Oshiro

    This is the most D-lightfully random post I have ever seen on the Vitamin D Council’s site! @Ron Carmichael hahahahaha

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