Conservationists are hoping this breeding season will bring the biggest-ever boost to New Zealand's critically endangered kākāpō population.

Two chicks, weighing a healthy 28 and 32 grams respectively, have hatched in the past two days, with more expected this week.

Department of Conservation kākāpō operations manager Deidre Vercoe says 2019 was predicted to be the biggest kākāpō breeding season on record with almost every breeding-age female expected to lay eggs.

"So far, things have got off to a great start with the birds mating earlier than expected resulting in a record 136 eggs to date," she said.


"Unfortunately, fertility has been particularly poor this year, potentially due to the number of young males breeding for the first time."

Less than half of these eggs would hatch into a kākāpō chick, and not every hatched chick would make it to adulthood.

"However, we're still hoping for anywhere between 30 to 50 chicks. With a population of 147 adults, this will be a huge boost for this taonga."

Because the birds began breeding so early, the team were moving eggs and chicks will be hand-reared in an effort to encourage "double clutching" – meaning they could nest twice in one season.

DoC's Kākāpō Recovery Programme, with the support of Ngāi Tahu, had been working on innovative new approaches to improve the breeding success of the critically endangered kākāpō.

Two such projects are "Smart Eggs" and an assisted breeding (AB) programme.

"Both projects, funded by our national partner Meridian Energy, are experimental in nature, but both also have the potential to dramatically increase the success of kākāpō breeding."

Assisted breeding was essentially a helping hand for kākāpō to ensure they're getting the most out of the breeding season.


It involves semen collection, sperm analysis and artificial insemination.

"This is part of our efforts to ensure that all founders are genetically represented, and also to increase fertility, since multiple matings greatly increases the likelihood that a female will have fertile eggs," Vercoe said.

"AB allows us to replicate this with females who don't chose to mate multiple times themselves."

AB efforts would focus mainly on any second clutches.

Smart Eggs were 3D printed eggs that mimicked the sounds that would come from a real kākāpō egg just prior to hatching, which helped kākāpō mothers better prepare for the arrival of their chick, thus improving the care they get in those critical first days.