In March and April, keepers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, celebrated the arrival of two male kiwi chicks! Get to know them in this update from the bird team.
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s bird team is celebrating the arrival of two male brown kiwi chicks, who hatched March 13 and April 7, 2022. These chicks are the eighth and ninth offspring, respectively, for their 9-year-old dam (mother) Manawa Ora and 37-year-old sire (father), Maori. Both chicks have yet to receive their official names, so here they’re referred to as First Chick and Second Chick.
VIDEO | "First Chick" hatched March 13, 2022. In order to obtain a weight on the chick, keepers place him in a shallow container. A keeper scratches the kiwi's head to encourage him to briefly sit still while the animal care team obtains an accurate weight.
Maori is an experienced father and readily incubates the eggs that Manawa Ora lays. In order to give kiwi chicks the best chance at survival, keepers pull the eggs from their parents’ nest once the egg nears the later stages of development. In the wild, brown kiwi parents do not provide any care, food or protection; the chicks are on their own. Therefore, Maori and Manawa Ora will never meet their offspring, as it would likely end in aggression. Because of this, the chicks wouldn’t imprint like many bird species; this allows the bird team to incubate, hatch and raise the chicks in a controlled environment where they can better monitor development and intervene if needed.
Since brown kiwi chicks do not imprint, keepers are able to be hands-on with them. Once a chick hatches, keepers can clean their umbilicus and look the chick over to ensure it’s healthy. Since they need to have absorbed their yolk sac fully before they begin eating food (to prevent yolk sac retention), daily weights are taken and food is only offered after a point.
VIDEO | "Second Chick" hatched April 7, 2022.
When Second Chick hatched, he took longer than usual to begin walking around. Typically, kiwi chicks start walking within the first few days. Despite being fairly precocial, or capable of moving, feeding and caring for themselves at the time of hatch, they take some time to get to that point, having underworked legs and a heavy internalized yolk sac. He was walking around during that time, but he did so less frequently than other chicks and his movement wasn’t strong. He’d spend more time recumbent and when he tried to walk he stumbled. Sometimes, instead of walking, he just scooted on his hocks. There are ways to mitigate leg issues—including supportive splints and laser therapy. Luckily, the bird team never needed to employ either. They were relieved when he began walking normally.
Compared to other avian species, kiwi develop very slowly into adulthood. The chicks at SCBI have weighed between 200 grams and 330 grams (roughly 0.5 to 0.75 pounds) at hatching, though the range for hatch weights in species is wider. When these chicks reach adulthood, they will weigh between 1.4 to 2.4 kilograms (roughly 3 to 5 pounds) for males and 2.2 to 3.2 kilograms (roughly 5 to 7 pounds) for females.
At about three weeks old, keepers moved First Chick and Second Chick from the brooder box to a larger indoor enclosure. Recently, the chicks moved to their own outdoor habitats, which are invariably more sensory. Everything is new; for the first time, they experienced rain, wind and the like. They explore these new enclosures in a manner befitting a kiwi—probing the groundcover with their long, narrow bills, stomping on vegetation and leaving behind a mess.
There’s a chance for kiwi, regardless of age, to go off of food temporarily whenever they change enclosures. When First Chick shifted from the brooder box to the larger indoor enclosure, he experienced a short bout of inappetence. It could be the distraction of a new area, the stress of moving to a new environment, a combination of both, or some other unknown reason—keepers cannot say for certain. When he settled down and consumed his diet mash of produce, pellets, meat and worms, it was a sign that he acclimated to his new home.