Kiwis and Ticks

Tom holds his first wild kiwi chick.

Even though spring has technically arrived here in New Zealand, the weather decided to give us more rain for slippery conditions. We had an extra pair of helping hands on our last visit to the island where we are conducting our kiwi research. One of Sarah’s supervisors, Tom Jensen from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, joined us, and he got to experience our slick gullies firsthand. He now knows it’s not always easy out here, even though my parents like to think my job is play. Can they really blame me for picking a field that enables me to work with such unique birds?

Tom Jensen's arm is covered with ticks after sticking his hand in a kiwi burrow.

We’re reaching the end of the first round of nesting. The males who have failed (either their eggs never hatched or their chicks died right away) have been off nests for awhile, and more successful males are finding freedom off their nests as their chicks venture out into the world. Some fathers are more dedicated to their nests, whether the chick is still in there or not. Scott has been one of my favorite birds, because he spent the whole trip in the nest with his chick, Charlie, which meant that I didn’t have to go searching for him!

Having Tom on the island enabled us to finally start another project that we’ve been discussing: ticks.  When we handle birds, we frequently find a number of ticks on them. Since essentially no research has been conducted on these ticks, we decided to try to learn more about the life history and presence of kiwi ticks. Now we spend some afternoons counting ticks while attempting to keep them off ourselves. We’ve found some in known burrows, confirming that ticks are out and about.

Building penguin boxes, good thing there are no penguin house inspectors. Our walls weren't exactly straight!

We’ve started another new project, but this one isn’t focused on kiwis. On my very first day on the island, I learned we are fortunate enough to have blue penguins living under our cabin. It’s pretty cute to hear them calling in the late evening and into the night. Apparently it’s somewhat common to find blue penguins among rocks and under houses here in coastal New Zealand. We’ve started building penguin boxes in which the little blues can nest in safety from predators. The boxes also give them a space to call “home.”

We’re waiting anxiously to see if some kiwis will re-nest. Sarah and Rose each found females in fairly “nesty-looking” burrows with their known male partners there the next day. One male that failed early on had a dramatic dip in activity on our last day, but without a radio on his female, we aren’t sure yet if he is on a new egg. With all of these questions, Rose and I are anxious to get back on the island to catch up on “kiwi gossip!”

Steph Walden is a volunteer for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Kiwi Chicks Arrive.

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