Kakapo ‘curse’ hits breeding season – but more eggs to come

Sirocco the Spokesbird —  28/02/2011

Skraaark! I’ve just had a skype-apo chat with DOC scientist Ron Moorhouse and he’s told me a few things that are happening down on Codfish Island. It’s good news and bad news – so business as usual in kakapo land!

The good news is that so far we’ve got 18 eggs, and we’re still hoping for more – maybe another couple of nests if we’re lucky. Get booming fellas! Go get ‘em, girls!

Comparison of eggs: hen egg (top)
and kakapo egg (bottom)

The problem though is one that’s haunted us for many years – we find it quite hard to produce healthy eggs. Why? Well, it’s a bit delicate – but when you realise that there are so few of us and that most of us are related in one way or another, you might get the idea. I guess this is the ‘kakapo curse’ – when you get over-friendly with a relative, there’s gonna be trouble.

What this means in real terms is that around half of our eggs don’t make it to chick-time. On the nesting table you’ll see that at the moment several of the eggs are listed as either ‘infertile’ or ‘e.d.e’ – which stands for ‘embryo died early’. This is the curse, and it comes from being such a small population.

Removing eggs from Lisa's nest (2002 season)
Lisa laid three e.d.e. eggs this season

Obviously our DOC friends are doing everything they can to help. It was great news back in the 1970s when we kakapo came out of hiding and they found us on both Stewart Island and in Fiordland. There were only a few Fiordland birds, but they were vital in terms of the genetic diversity they offered – the late, lamented Richard Henry may well yet provide some much needed “new blood” through his surviving offspring, Sinbad, Gulliver and Kuia.

The next problem to overcome is that we don’t want too many more boys. We need girls to keep the numbers going up, but in the past there just weren’t enough of them. But luckily a few years ago the scientists worked out one of our kakapo secrets: if you feed up a kakapo girl, then she’s more likely to have boy chicks – because she knows that if she’s healthy, then the boy will grow up to be a lusty, booming stud muffin who will keep her line going.

But if the mum is a bit skinny, she’ll worry that a boy chick will be a runt…so she produces a girl instead! Once they worked that out a few years ago, they cut back the rations to produce more girls – and it’s worked. It goes about 50:50 now, which has got to be good news for everyone concerned!

Two month old Kakapo chicks from 2009 breeding season

So it’s all a bit complicated, and to be honest I’m glad I’m up here on Maud Island having a good old time with local school kids coming to see me, and the occasional ranger for me to jump on.

Chick-time is coming – maybe in the next couple of weeks. I’ll keep in touch with Ron and my friends down on Codfish and I’ll let you know what’s happening. Skraaaark!

6 responses to Kakapo ‘curse’ hits breeding season – but more eggs to come


    Hi was just wondering if anyone can help me at all…

    I am a university student in England currently studying Bioveterinary Sciences at the Royal Veterinary College London. I have been amazingly intrigued by your Kakapo Recovery project and wondered if I could get in touch with the organiser of this project to discuss conservation efforts and budgets if possible? As part of my course I am required to write a grant proposal which I would like to base on this species and the recent Erysipelas outbreak. I would be very, very, very grateful to discuss several things with anyone involved in your project.

    Any help would be great!!



      Karen Arnold 28/03/2011 at 10:27 am

      Hi Amy

      Thanks for your enquiry! Please feel free to email me directly: karnold@doc.govt.nz

      Kind regards

      Karen Arnold
      Kakapo Advocacy
      Department of Conservation

    nz accommodation 24/03/2011 at 11:21 am

    Just want to say, it is really fantastic what you guys are doing! Please keep up the great work. Lets save these little guys for generations to come!


    In the midst of the Christchurch horror it is so good to read about new life and its complexities – ‘lusty, booming stud muffins’ included : )


    still no luck on anchor?


      Skrraaark! Hi Tom – no luck on Anchor I’m afraid. The level of rimu fruit is just too low to get those girls going… Seasons go up and down though, and hopefully we’ll get a few young ‘uns this year on Codfish.