Bird of Paradox begins with the pre-human history of New Zealand, tracing the changing geological and ecological environment within which the kea evolved. It continues with the effects of human settlement, Polynesian and European, on the kea's environment, especially through the introduction of animals and bounty hunting in response to attacks on sheep.
Diamond and Bond then describe their fieldwork and observations: this provides a general introduction to kea ecology and behaviour. They trace the development of keas, as fledglings, juveniles, subadults, and adults, focusing on the role of learning in kea society. A chapter on the kaka, a closely related parrot with an overlapping range, provides ecological and behavioural contrasts and sheds light on the kea evolution of flexibility.
A final chapter looks at pragmatic issues in the human-kea relationship: wildlife protection legislation, smuggling for the pet trade, more on the history of bounty hunting, ongoing attacks on sheep and destruction of cars and other property, and the general conservation situation.