Aotearoa’s national icon is one step closer to overcoming its endangered status, with the arrival of the first eggs of the breeding season at New Zealand’s newest purpose-built kiwi incubation, hatching and brooding centre.

In late August, the Crombie Lockwood Kiwi Burrow in Wairakei, near Taupō, welcomed two North Island brown kiwi eggs. Opened in October 2019, the facility can currently cater up to 80 eggs a year. Once the eggs hatch and the birds are growing well, the kiwi chicks will be released back into the wild.

Kiwi eggs are collected from various locations in the wild like Taranaki and Tongariro and transported to the Kiwi Burrow. When they arrive, they’re carefully measured and inspected through a process called candling, where a light is shone through the shell to see how the kiwi inside is developing. The eggs are then moved into an incubator until they hatch. Incubation can take up to 78 days.

Unlike many other bird species, a kiwi chick looks like a miniature version of its parents when it hatches. It’s well-developed, fully feathered, requires much less parental care than other freshly hatched birds, and in the wild would be out foraging for its own food at just five days old.

After around three weeks at the Burrow, juvenile kiwi are released either to a crèche at Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary where the Kiwi Burrow is located, or to their new forever home at Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari in the central North Island, which at 3400 hectares is one of the largest pest-proof fenced conservation projects in the world. Kiwis for kiwi has released over 130 kiwi at Maungatautari over the last 12 months, with a goal of having 800 breeding pairs there over the next five years.

The Kiwi Burrow is essential for the ongoing survival of one of the most unique birds in the world.

“The kiwi is a really special bird,” says Kiwis for kiwi executive director Michelle Impey. “But it’s also really vulnerable. It sleeps during the day, can’t fly, doesn’t have great eyesight and nests on the ground, so kiwi and their eggs are easy prey for predators like stoats, ferrets and dogs. We need a purpose-built hatching facility like the Crombie Lockwood Kiwi Burrow so we can give our national bird more of a fighting chance at survival.”

Crombie Lockdown Kiwi Burrow site manager Helen McCormick is really excited about the arrival of the first eggs of the season.

“The Kiwi Burrow team has spent the last few months getting everything set up and ready to go so we’re well ahead of the game when we get more eggs and chicks,” she says. “Now that our first eggs of the season have arrived, we’re really excited to put all that preparation into practice.

“It’s incredibly rewarding knowing that the work you do every day will help an endangered species’ survival. A lot of New Zealanders have never a kiwi in the wild, only in a sanctuary or a zoo. It will be amazing for our children and grandchildren to be able to get up close and personal with a kiwi in its natural habitat one day.”