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Kakapo chicks

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Critically endangered kakapo chicks hatch

17 March 2014
Department of Conservation Release

A kakapo chick has hatched in the wild on Hauturu o Toi/Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf, less than two years after a small adult population was reintroduced to the island.

With the arrival of the chick named Heather One on Little Barrier, and five new chicks on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, six kakapo chicks have successfully hatched this season.  A seventh chick died last week, just hours after hatching on Codfish Island.

The kakapo is the world's heaviest and longest living parrot, and only flightless and nocturnal parrot.

Kakapo Recovery programme manager Deidre Vercoe Scott said all chicks were doing well but the team was particularly thrilled with the successful breeding on Hauturu o Toi/Little Barrier.

Kakapo were first reintroduced to Little Barrier in 1982, and had some success breeding there, although they needed supplementary food.

They also needed protection from the kiore (Pacific rat), the only introduced predatory mammal on the island.  All kakapo were removed in 1999 during rat eradication.

Nine kakapo have been transferred to Little Barrier Island since 2012, but this time they have not been given any supplementary food.

The successful mother, Heather, hatched in 1981 from mother Flossie.  Heather mated three times with Dobbie who hatched in 1991 from mother Wendy.  The couple had previously lived on Little Barrier Island before rats were removed.

1st image above: The heads of two brand new chicks initially named Lisa Two and Rakiura Three, on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island.  Image Crown Copyright © 2014 Department of Conservation.

Click on 1st image above for a 2nd image of an older chick named Tiwai at 44 days old and weighing 1435 grammes in his nest cavity on Codfish Island in 1997.  Image Don Merton, Crown Copyright © Department of Conservation.
Double click on 2nd image to return to first

See more on kakapo
View 9 images of female kakapo and chicks
See kakapo population breaks 100

Hear the sound of a female kokako
    MP3  1,396K  1 min 29 sec.
Hear the sound of a male kokako
    MP3  2,361K  2 min 30 sec.
Hear the mating call of the male kokako booming
    MP3  2,102K  2 min 13 sec.
    Crown Copyright © Department of Conservation

Heather produced three eggs but only two were viable.  The second good egg was transferred to Whenua Hou/Codfish Island to ensure that when it hatched the chick didn’t have to compete with its older sibling in the nest for food.

The new chick, Heather One, was discovered by Department of Conservation staff soon after it hatched on Wednesday night.  There were concerns about its safety as ex-cyclone Lusi made its way across the Pacific.

Fortunately, Heather’s nest was in a relatively sheltered spot away from any creek that had the potential to flood.  DoC staff checked the nest site for loose branches and dug extra drainage around it.

On Whenua Hou/Codfish Island, the main protected and managed breeding location west of Stewart Island, two of five chicks have been fostered out to kakapo mothers who have been sitting on dummy eggs.

The Kakapo Recovery team will provide intensive monitoring to ensure the chicks are being fed and are healthy.  The other three newcomers are currently cared for in incubators and are hand-fed.

The 2014 Codfish Island breeding season was remarkable because the first chick to hatch, initially named Lisa One until sex is determined, came out of a shell that had been cracked in the nest of Lisa, and taped and glued together by a ranger before being put into incubation.


Above: An adult kakapo Strigops habroptilus in a passive perch.  Image Crown Copyright © Department of Conservation.

The slow and unsteady return from the brink of extinction .....

Life moves slowly for kakapo, and so does breeding, so any year with good crops of chicks is a worthwhile lift. The long, tedious battle to save them over a period of six decades has been fraught with disasters, saved by dedicated effort, and occasionally boosted with success.

With very limited hatchlings, and in many years none, it has been a balancing act between losses because of old age and predation, and few births.

In 2001 there were 62 birds - 36 males and 26 females.

The population got a big boost with 24 new chicks in 2002, bringing the total to 86.

There were only four new chicks in 2005, the lowest number for four breeding years.  The fertility rate that season was only 56 percent.

From 2001 to 2014, the total kakapo population has grown from 62 to 142.

Kakapo had a good year in 2008. All eggs were fertile, and 10 chicks raised the population to 90.  Two six year-old females bred which is young, considering the lowest previous known breeding age was nine.

A record 34 chicks hatched in the 2009 breeding season, bringing the population to 125, passing the 100 mark and more than doubling the 2001 population.  It is the most successful season since the recovery programme began.

In 2011, 11 chicks hatched . Rimu masting did not occur, failing to ripen fruit for mothers to naturally feed their chicks.  Without help, all 11 chicks would have died.  Four mothers were able to feed a single chick with the help of supplementary food provided by staff and volunteers, and 6 were transferred from Codfish Island to a hand rearing facility.

There were no chicks in 2012 and 2013.  So it has been remarkable with 6 in 2014, the first in three years, bringing the total population up to 142.

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