A cross-fostering experiment between the endangered takahe (Porphyrio mantelli) and its closest relative, the pukeko (P. porphyrio)
- Department of Zoology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
New Zealand's avifauna is characterised by a variety of endemic, often flightless, birds most of which are critically endangered. One of these, the takahe, is a large flightless rail which has been reduced to one population of 115 birds in its natural alpine habitat plus 52 others introduced on four small offshore islands. By contrast the takahe's closest extant relative, the pukeko, has been highly successful since its invasion of New Zealand within the past 800 years. This paper summarises results of a pilot study in which takahe eggs were cross-fostered to pukeko nests on Mana Island in order to increase the number of juveniles produced by each pair of takahe. Over two seasons, 67% (8/12) of the cross-fostered eggs hatched successfully with 25% (2/8) of the resulting young surviving to one year of age. These results were not significantly different from 42% (5/12) and 40% (2/5) hatching and fledging success of takahe-reared eggs from the same clutches. Low fledging success of cross-fostered chicks may reflect poor quality of takahe eggs per chicks rather than poor parental care by the pukeko foster parents, as hatching success of all parent-reared takahe eggs on Mana Island was only 22% (5/23) over the course of this research.