Tiny chick rescue offers hope for endangered bird species

A juvenile Fatu Hiva Monarch.
A juvenile Fatu Hiva Monarch. Photo credit: Benjamin Ignace. Auckland Zoo.

The rescue of a tiny chick in French Polynesia offers a glimmer of hope for a critically endangered bird species on the brink of extinction.

The five-day-old Fatu Hiva monarch, one of only twenty of these birds left worldwide, was plucked from a precariously balanced nest on the island, narrowly escaping an impending storm.

Approaching six weeks old now, the chick shows promising signs of successful weaning, thanks to the joint efforts of the Polynesian Ornithological Society (SOP Manu) and Auckland Zoo.

"It's been a titanic and exacting task, the result of great teamwork," said SOP Manu Biologist Chiara Ciardiello.

"It now weighs almost 40 grams and is close to fledging, but we still have a long way to go."

Dr Juan Cornejo, the curator of birds at Auckland Zoo and technical lead for the ex-situ intensive management project, described the developments as pivotal in safeguarding the species' future.

The chick's rescue follows ten unsuccessful breeding attempts by four Fatu Hiva pairs last year, alongside early failed attempts to hand-rear chicks from incubated eggs in the purpose-built intensive management facility on the island – the first time this had ever been tried.

"It gives new energy to our work. After the initial lack of success, we have achieved a breakthrough, proving this can be done. In a sense, it's the beginning of the program."

Hand-rearing the chick in the facility involves meticulous care, round-the-clock feedings and gradual independence training. Previously, the team focused on collecting monarch eggs to be hatched under supervision, shielding newborn chicks from malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Although three chicks successfully hatched, their brief survival led to a pause in the program for reassessment.

Now, the team is poised to focus on rescuing chicks rather than eggs. Dr Cornejo is recruiting a full-time keeper to oversee hand-rearing and maintenance work on the island, which SOP Manu funds.

"Human actions have led to the decline of this species," he emphasised. "People brought in the rats and the cats to the island, so it's our moral duty to do what we can to rectify that and protect biodiversity."

Once fledged, the chick will transition to an outdoor aviary on the island, shielded from mosquitoes. A future initiative involving the controlled introduction of infertile male mosquitoes is under consideration to combat malaria, potentially yielding results within a few generations.

For now, all attention remains on this tiny Monarch.

Watch the latest Wild Heroes episode featuring the Fatu Hiva to learn more about this captivating bird species. It airs on Three and ThreeNow Saturday at 7 p.m.

Article created in partnership with Auckland Zoo