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1000th Hihi chick hatched at ZEALANDIA

A Zealandia Ranger has just found the sanctuary’s 1000th hihi chick within a specially designed nest box, reaching yet another milestone in Zealandia’s efforts to restore New Zealand’s native wildlife.

The chick was given its own special colour combination of identification bands on its legs, with a flash of gold added to mark the significance.

The hihi, or stitchbird, is a small forest-dwelling songbird endemic to New Zealand, famous for their high pitched 'stitch' call and for the males' striking black, white and yellow feathers.

Once common throughout the North Island, hihi were nearly entirely wiped out by habitat loss and introduced predators, with only one small population surviving on Te Hauturu-o-Toi / Little Barrier Island.

In 2005, 60 hihi were translocated to ZEALANDIA, marking their return to the mainland after an absence of over 100 years. This was part of a nation-wide effort to recover the species, and now they can now be found in a number of off-shore islands and few mainland sites around the country. However, they are still under significant threat and classified as “Nationally Vulnerable”.

"This makes hihi just as endangered as the very rare takahē, and more endangered than most kiwi species," says Dr Danielle Shanahan, Zealandia Conservation & Research Manager.

"Since being brought back to the mainland, we've been delighted to watch the population grow. Reaching 1000 chicks is a huge milestone for this taonga," says Dr. Shanahan.

While 1000 chicks have hatched at the sanctuary over the past 13 years, the total living population at the sanctuary is still only estimated to be around 100. This is the largest population on the mainland.

So, what happened to the other 900 birds?

"The hihi is not particularly long-lived with three to four years being an average lifespan," according to Neil Anderson, Zealandia Conservation Ranger.

"A typical sex imbalance in favour of males, and their promiscuous nature, also make for a highly competitive breeding environment."

This promiscuous nature is well-documented. Hihi have the dubious honour of being the only bird species known to sometimes mate face to face. During breeding season the male hihi testes also swell to about 4% of their body mass, making them bigger than their brain during this time.

With suburban gardens adjoining the sanctuary fence, predation of birds foraging outside is another big risk says Anderson.

"But that's all the more reason to continue creating safe suburbs for our feathered neighbours!"

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