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Hihi become foster parents to abandoned chick
ZEALANDIA Ecosanctuary
/ Categories: ZEALANDIA News

Hihi become foster parents to abandoned chick

Sometimes a seemingly normal day at Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne can have a big impact on what we know about our native taonga.

For the first recorded time, hihi/stitchbird have shown fledgling adoptive behaviour which could be a conservation breakthrough in the management of this threatened endemic bird.

A short note, written by Zealandia conservation rangers Rachel Selwyn, Kari Beaven, and Ellen Irwin and published this week in the science journal Notornis, details the discovery.

In December 2020, an 11-day-old hihi chick was found unwell in a nest box and was urgently taken to the Nest Te Kōhanga at Wellington Zoo for treatment. The other two eggs in the nest box failed to hatch.

Veterinarians successfully treated the chick for a large air-filled swelling on the side of its neck and when the chick was well enough it was brought back to Zealandia. 

Sadly its parents had abandoned the nest box, as they had no other chicks to keep them there. To give the chick the best chance at life, the team decided to place the chick in a nearby nest with a similarly aged chick.

The introduced chick was slipped into the nest box while the natural chick was removed for banding. The chicks appeared to settle quickly and the female parent entered the nestbox soon after. The team monitored the nest to look for any signs of rejection or aggression but there was ongoing and consistent attendance by the parents. Nine days later both chicks successfully fledged.

This shows that fostering and nest surrogacy could be considered a feasible management option for hihi if certain factors are taken into consideration, such as minimising the risk of disease transmission and risks to existing nestlings. 

Further investigation is required to determine if this approach could be successful under different conditions.

Hihi chicks photo: Andrew Hawke

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