Solstice

Solstice was the last kākāpō found on Stewart Island.

She was discovered on 21 June 1997 – the winter solstice – five years since a bird had last been found and translocated from this island. The story behind finding Solstice illustrates how difficult a task it is to locate cryptic wild kākāpō that aren’t radio-tagged; even in an area kākāpō have been known to inhabit.

Five months before she was found, a team member had found a few feathers near a long disused track and bowl site. The site was in the central kākāpō area of Stewart Island, near to where many birds had previously lived. The feathers were found during a breeding season, so Solstice must have been looking for a male to mate with.

Solstice is one of the largest female kākāpō and often weighs 2kg – even without the help of supplementary feeding. She laid three fertile eggs after mating with Felix in 2002, but all the embryos died early in incubation, possibly a genetic fault due to inbreeding.

Although relatively inbred, Solstice has no other first-order relatives descending from Stewart Island so it is important to retain her genetic diversity.

She mated again with Felix in 2009 and this time the kākāpō team took the chance to intervene, using artificial insemination (AI) of fresh sperm collected from three males: Arab, Smoko and Stumpy.

The three eggs laid were the first kākāpō eggs ever to be fertilised through AI; two by Smoko and one by Arab. Unfortunately, one embryo died very early in development and Arab’s died prior to hatching. However, to our delight, Ra – a female – hatched and was hand-raised successfully.

In 2011, Solstice laid a further three eggs. We attempted AI, which was unsuccessful but, luckily ,Solstice had decided to mate for a third time. The father of her three chicks, Waynebo (an important Stewart Island founder) died the following summer.

Her daughters Stella and Ihi were hand-raised and her son Komaru was raised by Rakiura.

The names of all Solstice’s offspring have a celestial theme.

To date, Solstice has struggled to raise chicks herself. All seems normal from video footage but, for some reason, she doesn’t appear to transfer food to her chicks and they have to be removed to prevent starvation. Perhaps it’s due to inexperience, egg failure and rat predation in the past.

The kākāpō team will continue to work towards improving Solstice’s mothering skills at the next opportunity, by giving her a four to five-day-old chick, rather than allowing to hatch her own. This method proved successful for another mother in 2011.

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