A very special egg has hatched at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia. Its occupant? A rare brown kiwi chick, the first to hatch from an egg laid and incubated at the institute.

The hatchling's parents were given to SCBI as a gift from the New Zealand government back in 2010, and their move to foreign shores was the first time any kiwi had left its native home in two decades. Six years later, the pair have finally produced their first offspring, though it will be some weeks before keepers will know the chick's sex.

"Kiwi do not care for their chicks, which are capable of caring for themselves at birth. After hatching, the chick was moved to an incubator especially for newborn chicks," says the institute.

They might not be the most elegant birds, but kiwis make up for their avian ungainliness with a whole bunch of oddball features. For a start, they don't fly. Instead, they scurry along the forest floor at night and retreat into dens on the ground at daytime. At the end of their very long bills, you'll find a pair of nostrils, a feature no other bird can boast about. As for the kiwis' closest relatives ... look no further than Madagascar's extinct elephant bird!

Even the eggs are unusual. The chicken-sized kiwis have some of largest egg-to-body weight ratios of any bird. An egg averages around 15% of the female's body weight – that's compared to 2% for the ostrich. But when it comes to incubation duty, it's the male kiwis who do all the work.

Kiwi Incubator 2016 06 02
After being incubated by another male bird at the facility for 30 days, the bird was moved to a climate-controlled incubator. Image: Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

New Zealand is home to five different kiwi species, and while two of them are seriously threatened, brown kiwis like Smithsonian's new arrival are more common. However, all of the species are rapidly declining, largely because introduced predators like stoats are eating their way through populations. According to Australian Geographic, only around 70,000 of the birds still roam New Zealand, and that number could drop to about 63,500 in the next few years.

That makes Smithsonian's tiny hatchling a pretty valuable new addition.


Top header image: Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute