Tracking parents-to-be, incubating chicks, expansions, and more in this update on the Saving the Kiwi strategy.

The new breeding season has begun, with the first Operation Nest Egg chick hatched at The National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua on 30th August. This marks the beginning of the third season of implementation of our Saving the Kiwi strategy. Using Operation Nest Egg, we are stocking a predator-free kōhanga kiwi sites (usually islands, or fenced sites), to establish breeding, or founder, populations. As the kōhanga start to fill up, the founders’ offspring will be removed and released to safe places in the wild. The kōhanga will be a source of kiwi in perpetuity, helping to grow kiwi numbers and return them to areas from where they have disappeared.

For the first stage in the process – finding kiwi in the wild and affixing a transmitter so we can later retrieve the eggs for incubation in captivity – an additional 74 kiwi were caught this year. Our aim is to find the males, as they incubate the eggs for North Island brown, but sometimes it was the female we caught. Transmitters were still attached in these cases, with the aim of finding their partner.

The next stage is lifting the eggs, incubating them in captivity, and releasing the chicks at around 3-4 weeks old to their new forever home at a kōhanga site. In the year just completed, a total of 82 kiwi were released to kōhanga sites; 45 to Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari (kōhanga site for Western brown kiwi) and 37 to Motutapu Island (kōhanga site for Coromandel brown kiwi). For both regions, some of those kiwi came from a ‘’harvest’’ to remove resident kiwi from smaller sites (Rotoroa Island, and the southern enclosure at Maungatautari). This not only helped increase the number of kiwi released to kōhanga, but also helped clean up sites with small founder populations that were at risk of inbreeding. Wins for everyone involved, but most importantly, for kiwi.

The eggs and young chicks that had been lifted were incubated at the three facilities on the North Island that participate in Operation Nest Egg: Auckland Zoo, The National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua, and Pukaha Mount Bruce in the Wairarapa. Space has been an issue over the past few years as we are utilising maximum capacity, and so in the 2018/19 year we increased incubation capacity by installing and staffing the ‘’Brooder Wing’’ at The National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua. This is a shipping container fitted out with brooders, where chicks spend a couple of weeks before being released to the wild, and is the usual bottleneck in the system. If fully staffed, it would allow another 70 chicks per year to be incubated at The National Kiwi Hatchery. We provided half staffing, for 35 chicks. We’re very grateful to our wonderful supporters who helped to fit the new brooder wing out.

In the coming year, we will be operating our own incubation facility – the Crombie Lockwood Kiwi Burrow at Wairakei – but still utilising Auckland Zoo, Pukaha Mount Bruce and The National Kiwi Hatchery as well. We’re very excited about the new facility, and the opportunities it will provide to continue to grow Operation Nest Egg. You can read more about it here.

As you can see, work continues across all the areas of stage one of the Saving the Kiwi strategy and we’re making good progress. This is only possible thanks to the incredible support of a huge range of people and organisations and we’re very grateful to everyone who is involved in making it possible to help kiwi not just survive, but thrive. If you’d like to make a donation to help us reach this goal, please visit our donation page here. Thank you.