Record egg count from rare kiwis
26 Sep 2008
The rarest kiwis in the world have launched their 2008 breeding season by producing a record number of eggs.
Surprised New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) staff say 28 eggs have been collected from the Okarito brown kiwi, or rowi, as part of a safe breeding programme.
At the same time last year, just three eggs were taken to be hatched in captivity.
The Okarito rowi is the rarest species of kiwi in the world and was considered to be on the brink of extinction with 300 birds left.
Three years ago, DOC began removing eggs from the South Westland forest in the south of the South Island, to hatch in captivity, away from predators. The eggs are taken to the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve near Christchurch for safe hatching.
Biodiversity ranger Liz Brown says this year’s numbers show an ''incredible'' start to the season and more birds are breeding earlier.
"We are not sure why, possibly due to a fairly mild winter. The breeding season started in late July, and will probably run through until January or February so there's plenty of time left for more eggs and chicks," she said.
Four chicks have already hatched, four were unviable and possibly infertile from the start, and one was damaged by a predator.
Kiwi monitoring programme
DOC staff are monitoring 35 new birds caught during winter and about 70 pairs now have transmitters, compared with 45 last year.
Okarito rowi are soft to touch, compared with the more coarse feel of North Island brown kiwi. Male and the female rowi take it in turns to look after their egg, while in most other kiwi species it is a male-only task.
In 2006, 12 chicks were successfully raised, in 2007 that rose to 23, and this year the kiwi team hopes the number will exceed 30.
The birds have transmitters attached to their legs which send out a sequence of 15 distinct sets of beeps. These are then picked up by receiver equipment carried by a kiwi ranger.
If the signal shows little movement, then it's likely the kiwi has laid an egg and is spending much of its time incubating.
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