WASHINGTON — A female Guam kingfisher bird, a species so endangered that it’s completely extinct in the wild, hatched at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia earlier this month.
On May 17, she became the first chick of its species to hatch at the institute in four years. The brightly-colored birds are very hard to breed because they are territorial and matching compatible breeding pairs is difficult, according to the Smithsonian.
Since the mother and father of the chick arrived at the institute in 2016 and 2014, respectively, this was the first fertile egg they produced together. The pair did not display the correct parenting behaviors, so keepers at the institute’s staff artificially incubated the egg for 22 days – the species’ incubation period range is about 21 to 23 days – and are now hand-raising the baby.
During incubation, keepers tracked the chick’s development by shining a light through her eggshell, known as “candling.”
When she hatched, the chick weighed 5.89 grams, and had to be fed by keepers every two hours between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Now, the chick can eat chopped mice and crickets, mealworms and anoles, and keepers are in the process of gradually reducing her feedings until she is ready to leave the nest at a mere 30 days old.
Every living Guam kingfisher in the world today descended from 29 individual birds, all of which were taken into human care in the 1980s to prevent the species’ extinction. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute hatched its first Guam kingfisher chick in 1985, and has hatched a total of 19 since. Currently, there are fewer than 150 Guam kingfishers in existence.
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute ran a closed-circuit camera in the incubator to capture the chick’s hatching.