Release of drought-stricken kiwi chick rained off

By Lindy Laird -
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He was only about 8 days old when he was found rolled into a ball in the middle of a dry farm paddock, barely alive and baking under the hot sun.

That was at Christmas, and the kiwi chick was just one of many feathered victims of the drought that had already settled over Northland.

Luckily, this little fellow was found in time. The farmer took him to the Whangarei Bird Recovery Centre, where he has thrived.

Now, weighing 430g, nearly twice the 219g he weighed when he was found, and quite feisty with it, the kiwi is due to be released into the pest-controlled Bream Heads Conservation Reserve.

Rain caused yesterday's planned release to be postponed.

Robert Webb, from the Bird Recovery Centre, said four kiwi and many other birds have been brought in this summer.

Once kiwi chicks have hatched the father bird, who sat on the egg until that point, never feeds them. The chicks feed off the egg sac for their first week and then have to head off into the big world to forage for themselves.

"The chick goes one way and the adult bird goes the other, and that's it - parenting over!" Mr Webb said.

The nocturnal kiwi "drink" by wiping their long beaks sideways on the moist ground.

"They're really starving at the moment. In a drought the insects disappear, the ground gets too hard to dig in, there's no dew on the grass. They go off looking for moisture and get disoriented."

And when the sun comes up, the lost little birds curl up and go to sleep - and quickly become dehydrated.

"But in drought conditions, a lot of birds cop it," Mr Webb said.

This dry summer the centre has cared for seven hawks and currently an 8-week-old cheeky and sociable pukeko rules the roost there.

The centre has also had several ruru, or morepork, in its care.

Unable to keep up to four overheated chicks cool by using their wings as a fan, the parent will tip one or two of the smallest out of the nest.

"Great, isn't it. The air conditioning breaks down and you get kicked out of home," Mr Webb said.

Meanwhile, weather of the opposite kind has delayed one lucky kiwi chick's release back into the wild.

"It's too wet out there for him at the moment. It would be too extreme a change to put him out in that, even though he's lived outdoors at the centre."

The rain brings other ordeals for kiwi, whose burrows are susceptible to flooding, Mr Webb said.

"No doubt we'll start to get them coming in nearly drowned instead of nearly dried up."

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