Kiwi Eggs: Our Big Nights

Volunteer Rose Swift holding her very first Kiwi egg! To make it even more special it came from the first Kiwi nest she had ever found.

Our first eggs should be hatching any day now! I say “our,” but the eggs obviously belong to the kiwis rather than us. When we each check on the same birds day after day, it’s easy to develop a friendship with them, albeit one-sided. We recognize each bird’s rough territory and get to know each one’s activity levels or potential “burrowmates.” For me, Pipe Gully on this remote New Zealand island is my office where I catch up on my friends’ social lives!

I mentioned in a previous post (see Kiwi Season: More Nests) that we do nighttime checks of the nests to candle the eggs and see how they’re developing. Sometimes this means trying to visit over 16 nests in 1 night, and sometimes it’s more like 6 or 7. When walking and waiting time are put into consideration, this makes for some late nights, getting home after 2 a.m.! Of course, it all depends on how active the male kiwis are and how long we have to wait for them to emerge from their nests to forage. Last year, Sarah Jamieson (the postdoctoral fellow coordinating the project) had to wait until 4 a.m. for a male to leave his nest!

The entrance to the gully where I spend my days or, as I like to think of it, the entrance to my office.

We recently had a “big night,” as Sarah calls it. She and I left the cabin just after an early dinner to make the most of our evening. We covered about 5 miles (8 kilometers) during our night, but we were hustling up and down steep gullies when we weren’t sitting. Since I’m not used to being active in the darkness of night, I felt like my brain took naps while we were walking. The only real worry when we’re out is making sure we don’t disturb males on their nests. Other than that, we just have to stay on our feet. The various layers of groundcover can be quite slick, and we slip frequently enough in the light of day!

Unlike neighboring Australia, home of many deadly creatures, New Zealand lacks dangerous plants and animals. Sometimes when we sit, glowing dots appear in the darkness of the bush. These aren’t the glowing eyes of predators or creepy creatures; they’re the glowworms that were documented in BBC’s Planet Earth program! Some caves in New Zealand are full of them and are popular tourist destinations. It’s neat to see them in the bush here on the island!

On our evening out, we found that one of kiwi Martin’s eggs is the first to begin hatching. From candling we can see signs of internal pipping, meaning the kiwi chick is starting to work its way into the world. It can take from a couple of days to a week before the egg hatches. I am hoping we can provide some cute chick pictures in an upcoming post!

Steph Walden is a volunteer for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

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