March 31, 2010
During Tuesday’s early morning hours, a kiwi was born at the National Zoo. This kiwi birth is only the fourth in the Zoo’s history, but keepers also had another reason to celebrate: the species, the brown kiwi Apteryz mantelli bird, is one of the most endangered animals on earth.
Unlike other birds, kiwis are born with full feathers (and quite a distinguished beak) and they are able to care for themselves from the moment they are hatched. The Zoo’s new baby bird spent the first day of its life in an incubator, but has since been moved to a brooding box, keepers say.
The brown kiwi, the national bird of New Zealand, has existed for about 34 million years. The country’s natives, called the Mori, believe the bird is sacred. Today, the animal is close to extinction with only 24,000 still in existance in the wild. Many of them are killed by cats and stoats (an animal similar to a ferret).
The birds rarely thrive in captivity, which is why it wasn’t until the zoo’s first kiwi birth in 1975 that the bird was able to survive outside of New Zealand. Only four zoos outside of the New Zealand have been able to breed the birds successfully, and the National Zoo remains the only zoo in the U.S. to have a female kiwi that breeds successfully.
Keepers won’t be able to tell the sex of the bird until it is almost two years old. Until then, geneticists at the National Zoo have taken DNA samples by swabbing the inside of the bird’s egg and beak, and hope to have results in the next few weeks.
The baby’s box isn’t on display, but you can see it on the zoos’ Kiwi Cam. You’ll have the best luck at night, since the birds are nocturnal and do most of their exploring after the sun sets.
If you want a kiwi fix before then, visit the National Zoo’s Bird House at 11 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for their Meet-a-Kiwi program, where you’ll get to meet Manaia, one of the zoo’s two male kiwis.
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