Tape, Glue, and New Kakapo
Mnolf, via Wikimedia Commons: wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Strigops_habroptilus,_face.jpg
When I wrote about the kakapo—a chubby, flightless parrot that looks like a parakeet crossed with an owl crossed with a Muppet—last year, a group of the birds had recently arrived at their new home on New Zealand’s Little Barrier Island. The island had been cleared of accidentally-introduced rats and other predators, and conservationists hoped that Little Barrier would be a safe place to establish a population of the critically endangered birds (at the time, there were only 125 left) that wouldn’t need constant human babysitting (in some of the populations, conservation personnel have to provide the kakapo with food).
The birds didn’t breed in 2012, and no one was really expecting them to so soon after the transfer. As I finished working on my story in the fall of 2013, breeding season was still a few months off, and Deidre Vercoe Scott, who is the manager of the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s Kakapo Recovery Program, told me that from December through February, her team would be closely watching the birds to see “whether or not they are keen” to mate.
Good news came early last month when the team announced that one of the island’s three female kakapo, named Heather, was found nesting with three fertile eggs, and several females from the group of birds living on Codfish Island, at the other end of the country, were also discovered nesting. It was the first time that any of the birds had laid an egg since 2011.
A few weeks later, the first kakapo born in three years hatched from her egg, but not without incident. The egg, which belonged to a kakapo named Lisa, was found in the nest partially crushed. Fortunately, the egg’s inner membrane was still intact and senior kakapo ranger Jo Ledington was able to piece the outer shell back together with some tape and glue. The chick, dubbed Lisa One, hatched on February 28, happy and healthy. Isn’t she cute?
Four other eggs from Codfish Island also hatched, and just last week, one of Heather’s eggs hatched on Little Barrier Island. Some of the chicks are being kept in incubators and hand-fed until they can return to their groups, and two others have been fostered out to kakapo moms who didn’t lay viable eggs. It’s great news all around for the birds.
If you want to see more of these cute little guys in action, here’s one of the finest moments in nature filmmaking, wherein a kakapo attempts to mate with a zoologist’s head while Stephen Fry looks on laughing.