Captive propagation programs can often maximize both the quantity and quality of chick production, an advantage when dealing with very rare and endangered species. The palila propagation effort benefits from three factors: video monitoring, compatible and tolerant breeding pairs, and very talented hand-feeders.
Thanks to video monitoring, we can evaluate and review parental behavior at the nest and make management decisions based on how well the parents are attending to their eggs and chicks. In the case of one pair of breeding palila at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, video monitoring was used to determine that the female (only the hen incubates) was an excellent incubator. But once the chicks hatched, the parents proved to be inconsistent feeders and brooders (the female broods and feeds, the male only feeds). It was decided to remove one of the two chicks and give it a “boost” for two days with artificial heat and feeding. The parents were left to attend to the one remaining chick with the intention of rotating the chicks in and out of the nest throughout the nesting period. We also decided to put a third chick into the nest rotation. This chick was from another pair of palila that had previously abandoned their clutch.
By rotating one chick at a time through the parents’ nest every two days while we hand-attend to the other two chicks, we expose each of the chicks to parental care for a period of time. Confusing? You bet it is! But, this exposure to parental care will enhance all three chicks’ future behavior as release birds or as captive breeders. Although monitoring nests and manipulating chicks is labor intensive, the resultant quality of the chicks is ample reward for the investment of time.
Alan Lieberman is the program director for the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program.
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