Miracle kiwi chick emerges for Christmas
24 Dec 2009
A Christmas miracle is being celebrated in New Zealand with the arrival of a very special kiwi chick.
Piwi - the newest and smallest captive kiwi at Christchurch’s Orana Wildlife Park - is a miracle baby according to staff who had to assist the tiny bird to hatch from its damaged eggshell.
Weighing in at only 227 grams at birth, Piwi is the first kiwi to hatch at the park in nine years.
Orana Park marketing manager Nathan Hawke said it was believed to be the smallest captive kiwi on record.
Native fauna head keeper Tara Atkinson said the baby was a miracle.
"We experienced problems throughout the incubation and hatching process and feared for the chick’s survival. We considered it a miracle egg as at one stage we thought it had died," Atkinson said.
Several problems contributed to a difficult hatching, and staff had to assist by carefully removing layers of shell and membrane to free the bird.
Atkinson said there were difficulties with the egg which had several "toe holes".
"We had to patch them up with clear nail varnish and hope it hadn't been infected," she said.
Then, when the kiwi tried to hatch, it failed to penetrate the air cell needed to breathe, and could not make its way out of the shell.
"It wasn't aligned properly in the egg, so we had to poke a hole in the side for it to breathe through."
Park staff then chipped away at the shell and membrane, with remote guidance via speakerphone from an experienced kiwi keeper based in Rotorua, several hundred kilometres away on New Zealand’s North Island.
Critical early days
Atkinson said the next few weeks would be critical for the tiny kiwi.
Staff would have to ensure the kiwi gained weight, and watch out for infection.
However, she was feeling "really, really good" about the kiwi's chances.
Piwi is eating and drinking, and is emerging from time to time in the daytime. Keepers have seen it trying to scratch the soil in its enclosure.
Yesterday it was fitted with temporary leg splints to help its legs and feet to strengthen.
"We are so privileged to work with kiwi and having a chick for the first time in almost a decade is a very special for our team.
"We learnt a great deal through this difficult hatching and look forward to watching this little bird develop and hopefully having many more kiwi chicks hatch at Orana in years to come," Atkinson said.
North Island brown kiwi
Piwi is a North Island brown kiwi. The sex won’t be known for a few weeks until DNA testing on a sample feather has been completed.
The parent birds, Riri (4 years) and Dearheart (5), arrived at Orana in 2006.
They produced five eggs during the past year, but only Piwi's was fertile.
Riri and Dearheart are the first viable breeding pair Orana has held for some time, and staff expect more healthy eggs in the future.
Background: New Zealand kiwi
- Kiwi are fascinating birds and are unique to New Zealand. They are flightless as well as nocturnal and have nostrils at the tip of the beak which helps them sniff out food and probe for insects.
- Kiwi eggs are proportionately one of the largest of any bird and can weigh between one quarter to one sixth of the female’s body weight! The male incubates the eggs for 72-85 days.
- Kiwi can live for over 30 years and in the wild pairs may mate for life.
- Like most of New Zealand’s native fauna, kiwi are under constant threat, especially from introduced mammals including stoats, weasels, ferrets, cats and dogs, as well as from habitat loss. While adult kiwi are capable of defending themselves from everything except dogs, kiwi eggs and chicks are particularly vulnerable. Captive breeding programmes are vital if New Zealand’s national symbol is to survive.
- Kiwi are related to the African ostrich and the Australian emu.
- There are six kiwi sub-species, all of which are threatened to varying degrees: North Island brown, Okarito brown kiwi / rowi, Haast tokoeka, Southern tokoeka, great spotted, little spotted.
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