Kiwi Chicks Arrive

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Farmer Dave holds Babe on the day Alex attached its radio transmitter.

Spring is here! Lambs are following their mothers around, flowers are beginning to bloom, leaves are appearing on trees, and kiwi chicks are entering the world. And, of course, the Rugby World Cup is in full swing, which is the main news topic on any radio station or television channel over here! “Go the All Blacks!” is a pretty common sign posted around the country. It’s an exciting time to be in New Zealand!

A very rear sight (pun intended): Marc sitting on his chick.

Working an on- and off-island schedule provides opportunities for surprises both good and bad. Sometimes birds have moved from one burrow to another in their general territories. Other times their radio signals seem to come from totally new directions. During the ~80-day incubation period, male kiwis are always on their nests during daylight hours. (Anything else is cause for concern and speculation on why they’ve abandoned the nest and eggs.)

When we returned to the island, I found an exciting and unique view inside a nest. I could see a kiwi bum sitting on what looked like a smaller kiwi bum in a known nest! Yes, Marc was sitting on his chick! The chick fledged (left the nest) just a few days later, so I felt lucky to have caught the scene. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize how unlikely it would be to have the same view the next day, and so I only snapped this photo with my small point and shoot. I guess it’s better to have this photo than nothing!

Master’s student Alex Wilson does one last check before releasing Babe.

Massey University master’s student Alex Wilson is now free of her university schedule and able to focus on her research project studying chick behavior and survival. She monitors nests using cameras, which provides more insight into the lives of kiwis. Two volunteers from the U.S. have joined her as they combine a Rugby World Cup trip with some fieldwork. They tramp all over the gullies in the morning and at night as they set up and take down video cameras stationed at nests.

Part of understanding chick survivorship and behavior comes through the same radio telemetry we use on the adults. Alex recently pulled a chick out of its nest to attach a transmitter to it. We named the chick Babe after Rose’s grandfather. Babe’s activity is now being monitored by camera and telemetry. When chicks such as Babe start exploring more, we’ll use receivers to track them.

Genesis is another source of interesting news. He had been sitting on a nest, but it’s beginning to look like his egg didn’t hatch. However, his girl Susie spent two days in last year’s nest, and now he has been there for a few days. A night check revealed Susie did lay one egg in there, so hopefully Genesis will sit tight and incubate for the coming months!

Spring makes our commute to work even more of a pleasure.

We can say that Ivan, Scott, and Jenno are good fathers—so far. Videos reveal chicks emerging from their nests to forage nearby at night. The chicks look so helpless, and poor Alex worries as she watches them, hoping they’ll make it back into their nests without rolling down dirt mounts or wandering too far from “home.” I’m curious to see which other males have chicks when we get back, and whether Genesis is sitting on his nest!

Steph Walden is a volunteer for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Kiwi Eggs: Our Big Nights.