Kakapo and more

Everyone is talking about the Kakapo today because two of the 208 died. These events are always full of sadness.

Have you heard of Kakapo?

They live in New Zealand and they are parrots that cannot fly. Wings are only for balance and support. Some people think they look like an owl. In fact, they are nocturnal and only move around at night. Their plumage is a beautiful moss green with some yellow and black. Their feathers are very soft because they do not need them for flight. Their bill, legs, and feet are grey. Using those grey feet they run all over the ground and climb trees. They blend in perfectly to the forests of the small islands where they now live. These islands are designated nature reserves and only authorized personnel can go on them.

Before humans arrived on the shores of new Zealand, the forests were full of these amazing creatures. Many of the early settlers kept them as pets saying that they were as friendly as dogs. They are still friendly towards humans today. In the 1990s, only fifty existed. The predators of the adults were cats and stoats while rats were known to eat the eggs and the chicks. The New Zealand Department of Conservation undertook an amazing intervention in order to try and save the Kakapo. They literally gathered up the fifty that were alive and moved them to islands where there were no predators. In June there were 210. Sadly, today there are now 206. Every Kakapo has a radio transmitter whose battery needs to be changed at least once a year. They are carefully monitored and health checks are undertaken on a regular basis. Birds may receive supplemental feeds and eggs and chicks can be rescued and raised by hand. Because there are so few, the genetic diversity is extremely low and there is also a very low fertility rate. The Kakapo are managed on three islands and there is now managed mating using artificial insemination to help manage genetic loss. They are currently sequencing the genomes of all living kakapo to aid in their conservation. The females start breeding around five years but the males are not able to fertilize the eggs until they are about ten years old. They are said to only breed when the fruit of the Rimu trees bloom which is every 2-4 years. The males get off pretty easy. The females have to incubate the 1-4 eggs, feed themselves and their chicks, and also protect their nest and young. That is the reason that so many fell victim to cats and stoats in the past. They are strict vegetarians. Kakapo generally live to be ninety years old if they do not come to harm by predators or viruses.

They are so very cute. They love to hide from the Rangers when they come to change their transmitters but they also love their almond treats after!

If you would like to learn more about the Kakapo, this is a seven minute video that is quite good:

And if you are a teacher or you know someone who is and who might like to show their students this amazing non-flying parrot – that is so utterly sweet – head over to this site sponsored by the NZ Government:

https://www.doc.govt.nz/get-involved/conservation-education/resources/kakapo-recovery/

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It’s time for updates:

That Great Horned Owl on the Bald Eagle nest near Kansas City is still there. The Bald Eagles have not evicted her. Poor thing. That snow is really packed around her. The flakes stopped coming down and while it has warmed up, it is still a frigid -4 F. Our owl (I was tempted to say little but they really are not little) is trying to sleep and keep those eggs warm. Her mate, Clyde (gosh that was my dad’s name- who would name their little son Clyde???????) is very good at bringing her prey during the night. Last mouse deposit was right before dawn broke this morning.

Bonnie took a break – less than two minutes off those eggs. Gosh she was fast! That got me to wondering how quickly that -5 temperature would impact those eggs.

It doesn’t look like any of the snow fell in over the eggs. I wondered if the warmth of Bonnie’s body would have made a bit of a crust??? Just a silly thought but, maybe.

The Bald Eagle sitting on the nest in Hillsborough, New Jersey at Duke Farms is getting some relief. The snow has stopped falling and is actually melting there. We can finally see the nest. Let’s hope she catches a break and doesn’t get hit by the system moving through on Wednesday. This poor mother has had snow for twice as long as anyone else with eggs underneath them. She should get some kind of endurance prize!

And there is some really good news on the nest of Gaby and Samson over at NEFL. Little E24 was having problems with its right eye. This morning it was completely closed again but later in the day it opened up. I could not see any discharge. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it just got a poke from some of that nest material. And give a hand to Samson who brought in five big fish. I wonder if he is expecting bad weather to set in?

Oh, just look. There is the little one’s tiny little foot close by its mom. How precious.

Samson can be my weatherman any day. He brought in such a big pile of fish earlier. Now you can hardly make out his silhouette as the rain pelts down at the nest near St. Augustine, Florida. There are also thunderstorms in the area but no tornadoes. Smart dad. That little one will be under its mother staying dry while she continues to incubate an egg that will never hatch.

It has been a beautiful day out at Big Bear. That snow and chilly winds are gone! How nice for Jackie and Shadow.

I am also very happy to report that there was so much food on the SWFL Eagle nest of Harriet and M15 that the bopping of 17 towards 18 was next to nothing today. In fact, I hope they are growing out of that behaviour. There is lots and lots of food. Indeed, hold on. Harriet even brought in some road kill today in the form of a grey tabby cat. So again, if you ever find yourself near someone who is saying eagles only eat fish, well they sure don’t on Harriet and M15’s nest. They are great opportunistic eagles. At the same time it is extremely worrying when the hawks, falcons and eagles land on the streets and highways to get the carrion and get hit themselves. It is also, of course, tragic when someone’s pet gets hit by a car.

And last, let’s check up on Solly to see what she is up to. To date Solly has re-written a lot of aspects of Osprey behaviour in Australia. That is fabulous news and supports putting satellite transmitters on birds for additional research and learning. Of course, the streaming cameras that I watch, like you, are invaluable as are the BOGs (Birders on the Ground).

Solly is 149 days old and she is still enjoying Eba Anchorage and flying over to Kiffin Island to find her dinner. Look at that seabird go!

And speaking of Ospreys, one of the Scottish Kieldner Ospreys Blue Y6, White EB’s youngest daughter, that hatched in 2016 was seen at Tanji Marsh Bird Reserve in The Gambia by bird guide, Fansu Bojang. This is just excellent news. You might recall that Avian Flu went through the Pelican population in Senegal and there was some worry for the UK Ospreys. This is just wonderful news! Last year was Blue Y6’s first year to raise chicks. She had two with her mate at a nest in Perthshire. Let’s hope she does it again this year.

There is lots of good news all around in the bird world. Even the Kakapo Recovery said that they are grateful for the growth in the numbers and with that also comes higher numbers of those dying.

The Ospreys will be making their way back to their nests across the UK and Europe soon. We wish them all safe travels. The hawks and falcons will be finding twigs for their nests and in a few weeks we will begin to welcome another group of baby eagles.

I am keeping a particularly close eye on that nest of Big Red and Arthur.

Stay safe and stay warm! Thank you for joining me today. See you tomorrow!

Thank you to the Kakapo Recovery, the AEF for the streaming cams at Big Bear and NEFL, the SWFL streaming cam and the D. Pritchett family, Derek the Farmer’s streaming cam, Port Lincoln Osprey for the tracking information on Solly, Duke Farms streaming cam, and Kielder Ospreys.

The babies are home, the babies are home.

I have to admit that I was a little concerned about E17 and E18. How many days could they be in the clinic? how soon would their eyes heal? would Harriet and M15 accept them? Falcons have been removed from their scrape box and returned in five days with no problem and someone did tell me that an eagle had been away from its nest for treatment for eleven days with the parents accepting it fully. Remember, Laura Culley, the falconer, says that “worrying is nothing more than establishing the outcome in your mind before anything has happened”. I get it but it is really hard not to be concerned. The eaglets are so little and vulnerable.

Yesterday E17 and E18 arrived back at the nest at 9:20 am.

Joshua Tree loans their truck to return the eaglets. Image courtesy of CROW.
CROW returns eaglets on 5 February. Image courtesy of CROW.

The parents were off soaring and fishing. Harriet did not come to the nest for five hours. She was almost shocked to find her babies there!

This is a cute little video of the arrival. My heart broke and tears rolled down my cheeks when E18, the little one (facing its mother in the image below), runs to its mom.

Oh, my babies are home! Little E18 runs to its mother. Image courtesy of D. Pritchett Real Estate streaming eagle cam.

There has been a lot of discussion on FB about the aggression of the oldest one, E17 to E18. You will remember that E17 got time out when the pair were at the clinic having their eye infection treated. I will not say that aggression has stopped, it hasn’t.

Harriet and M15 have been together a long time and successfully fledged their eaglets. They know what they are doing. I am just a human without feathers and I cannot fly. M15 brought in a rabbit this morning. E18 ate first and she ate until her crop was about to pop. And then E18 fell asleep and guess what? Little E17 was fed. For those of you not familiar with Bald Eagles, it is often best to let the aggressive one get fed and fall into a food coma and then the other one can eat in peace. Both had full crops. And M15 has also brought in a fish to go with the rabbit for later feedings.

In the image below, E18 is being fed while E17 snores away. Nice to have a private feeding without any intimidation!

M15 feeding little E18 while E18 sleeps. Image courtesy of D. Pritchett Real Estate streaming eagle cam.

If you look carefully, you will see that E18, the eaglet farthest away from the parent, has a nice crop. The crop is a storage area for food in a raptor’s esophagus. Food sits in the crop waiting to be digested. Raptors do something called a crop drop that moves the food to their stomach. Sometimes you can actually see this happen if you are watching one of the streaming cameras. The food that cannot be digested is formed into a pellet and is thrown up. The proper term is ‘casting a pellet’.

I have a crop too: E18. Image courtesy of D. Pritchett Real Estate streaming eagle cam.

E18 is asleep and E17, that little stinker, is over by the parent. You can easily see its full crop (large dark grey sort of shiny area below its head). No doubt Harriet and M15 will feed them several times today.

It wasn’t quail but it was good. E18 is in a food coma and E17 has a bulging crop, too. Image courtesy of D. Pritchett Real Estate streaming eagle cam.

And while I was absorbed by these little fellas being returned to the nest, something wonderful, halfway around the world, happened.

On Midway Atoll, in the Pacific Ocean, a little Moli was born. But this isn’t just any Moli, it is the baby of Wisdom, the oldest known banded Laysan Albatross in the world. She is at least 69 years old. Wisdom’s mate is Akeakamai. Most Laysan Albatross return bi-annually to breed, lay their egg, incubate, and fledge their Moli. Wisdom and her mate have, since 2006, met every year on Midway. How remarkable! It is believed that Wisdom has now laid between thirty and thirty six eggs. Four years ago, in 2017, a chick that Wisdom hatched in 2001 made her nest just a few feet away from her mother’s nest.

In the image below, you can see the tiny Moli that had just hatched. It is 1 February 2021. Wisdom is out fishing and Akeakamai was there to welcome his little one. Wisdom is helping scientists learn about the longevity of Laysan Albatross. In fact, she is rewriting everything they thought they knew.

Wisdom’s Moli. Born 1 February. Image courtesy of the FB page of the Pacific Coalition.

One of the biggest challenges facing Laysan Albatross are rising sea waters and storm surges. Approximately half a million breeding pairs of Laysan Albatross lay their eggs and raise their chicks on the Midway Atoll. Midway is only eleven feet above sea level. While the rate of ocean rise is not yet enough to submerge the island, the increase in storms and flooding are of concern. In February 2011, ten years ago, a storm destroyed 40,000 nests at a time when the eggs were just hatching. A third of the entire population was destroyed. Because the albatross are faithful to the nest, they return, year after year, to the same location. This process is known as philopatry.

To help solve the problem of seas rising and storm surges, there are projects between the US Navy, the US Fish and Wildlife Services, and the Pacific Rim Coalition. They are working together to create a new albatross colony on Oahu, one of the Hawaiian islands. In 2017, fifteen five-week-old chicks were moved to Oahu to try and form a new colony.

Besides sea water, Midway Atoll is like the garbage can for all the plastic in the Pacific Ocean. And the birds eat it and they die. We need to do better. But, it’s Saturday and we will talk about that and sticky paper traps for mice on Monday. Today, let’s just feel good about the eaglets being home and having full crops and Wisdom’s healthy chick hatching.

One of the things that I love about the Albatross – it doesn’t matter which species – is how gentle and fun these big seabirds can be.

Here is a quick little video of their mating dance. Look! They do sky calls. Don’t you just wish you could dance like these two?

And last but not least, another smiling story for a cold, cold Saturday. The snow on the nest of the Bald Eagles at Duke Farm in Hillsborough, New Jersey is almost completely melted. Yippee. What a change from a few days ago when the mom was buried in snow during the nor’easter.

The snow is melting. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Streaming Eagle Cam.

The Polar Vortex has hit the Canadian Prairies and it is dangerously cold. We are being told to stay inside. The birds have been fed and I am going to hunker down with some nice hot tea and read a new book that arrived, Late Migrations. A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl.

Thank you for checking in with our favourite birds today. I needed to post some cheerful stories because marked on my calendar in big red letters is ‘hatch watch for Daisy the Duck’. Oh, how I hope she is paddling away enjoying herself. She gave us such joy and I know that many of you miss her as much as I do. Take care. See you soon!