Final chick of the season flies the coop

If you’d asked the Crombie Lockwood Kiwi Burrow team at the beginning of the 2020/2021 kiwi hatching season how they thought it was going to go, they probably would have shrugged their shoulders.

The dedicated incubation, hatching and brooding facility in Wairakei, just out of Taupō, opened partway through the previous season, then COVID coupled with a drought impacted the number of eggs that were able to be incubated. Given that the staff hadn’t completed a full season at the Burrow and 2020 threw many spanners into the works, it was very hard to predict how this season might go.

As it turns out, no one should have been worried.

June 30th was officially the end of the 2020/21 kiwi hatching season with the release of the final chick to hatch at the Burrow. “Halpin” was lucky chick number 104, up significantly from last season’s 23.

Ross Halpin and Crombie Lockwood Kiwi Burrow husbandry manager release “Halpin”

While cracking the 100 was an amazing achievement in the Burrow’s first full season since officially opening in December 2019, it’s not so much the number that was most surprising, it’s how long the season went on. Usually there are two distinct halves in a season but this year it all blended into one, and eggs were still being delivered to the Burrow months after they were expected to be. There were also an unusually high number of multiple clutches, with some nests producing two sets of two eggs in the one season. Two pairs even managed to produce a third clutch which is very unusual. The high numbers and extended season have been put down to wild kiwi playing catch-up after the drought.

Crombie Lockwood Kiwi Burro staff Kimberley McGuire, Will Kahu, Helen McCormick, and Kelsi Thompson

In what was fortuitous timing, capacity at the facility was increased in September 2020 with the arrival of a ‘brooder wing’, a specially modified 40-foot container that’s fully kitted out with everything required to care for kiwi chicks. Over the last 10 months, the brooder wing has been used as an ICU for sick chicks, a brooder room for chicks that have been found in the wild and delivered to the Burrow, and an overflow brooder room for chicks that have hatched at the facility.

Earlier this week, wee “Halpin” flew the coop (well, was driven away from the coop) and was released to Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari. The chick joins other kiwi from Kiwis for kiwi’s Saving the Kiwi kōhanga programme which were lifted from the wild as eggs, incubated, and hatched at the Crombie Lockwood Kiwi Burrow, then released to predator-free Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari where they’ll spend the rest of their days breeding the next generation of kiwi, safe from predators.

Kym, Helen and Kelsi with the first chick of the 2020/21 season.

Now that the facility is empty, the team is cracking on with loads of important tasks (not quite as fun as hatching and rearing kiwi!). They’re currently in the middle of an end-of-season power clean where they clean every single surface of the facility and all equipment. They also have loads of records to complete and will take the downtime as an opportunity to sit back and analyse the season, particularly health issues any of their charges had.

During this time, the team will also get involved in other kiwi-related activities. They’ve already had a go at kiwi call count monitoring, they’ll attend the National Kiwi Hui in July, they’ll visit Taranaki where the eggs they handle originally come from along with Kiwis for kiwi’s kiwi crèche in Napier, and they’ll visit the vet team at Massey University who have supported them over the last season with kiwi health issues. Oh, and they’ll enjoy some well-deserved time off over this time too.

Well done to the team for their incredibly hard mahi over the last season. Thank you too to Crombie Lockwood, Gary Lane, and the team at Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary whose support is integral to the success of this programme. Without your support, the Burrow team couldn’t do what they do.

We can’t wait to welcome the pitter-patter of kiwi feet to the Burrow again in spring. Until then, there’s some more cleaning to be done.