New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands - 2008

The breeding program works like this: nests of wild kiwi are monitored and the huge eggs removed and brought to facilities like Willowbank for incubation, hatching and fledging. When the birds are large enough, they are then moved to one of the DOC predator free islands for at least one year. There they can grow and mature without dangers from mammalian predators. After they are deemed to be adult, they are taken back to the areas where their original nest was located. This practice has turned a 98% chick loss to a 98% success in reaching adulthood and breeding potential. There are several of these facilities sanctioned by and working with DOC to increase kiwi survival rates around the whole country. Those pest-free islands loom larger and larger in importance to the overall restoration project. On our visit to Willowbank, we learned that 2008 was their most successful breeding season ever. Over 20 Okarito (a species of kiwi) chicks were released on Motuara (we never saw one there) and 20 Haast (another species) were resettled on Centre Island (we did not visit that site). Many other kiwis were successfully hatched, reared, and relocated including North Island Browns and Great Spotted. In addition a number of wild chicks were brought to the center for care and later release. We were surprised to find that this center is also involved in a Tuatara breeding program. Two of their resident females laid eggs this season, one producing 13 eggs and the other 9 eggs. 17 of those eggs are currently being incubated, the other 5 collapsed indicating they were infertile. A fascinating kiwi factoid: The size of the kiwi egg is the largest in proportionate to the body size of any birds in the world. The beleaguered kiwi female must deliver an egg that makes up one-quarter of her total body weight. This egg is truly enormous in relation to the bird’s size. We could hardly help wondering why Mother Nature was so cruel to mother Kiwi birds. t

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