The nation’s first crested ibis chicks to be born in the wild since 1976 are being watched over by a pair of the endangered birds on Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, the Environment Ministry said Monday.
If the their development proceeds unhindered, they will likely leave the nest in about 40 days.
The parents — a 3-year-old male and 2-year-old female — were raised at an ibis conservation center on the island and released into the wild in March 2011. They were found to have built a nest on March 16.
The ministry said it confirmed the chicks’ birth via a remote camera placed near the nest but that footage of the eggs actually hatching was unavailable because the camera broke. On Sunday, a monitoring team from the ministry set up another camera 40 meters from the nest that was able to take about 12 hours of footage from 6 a.m. showing one of the chicks being fed, officials said. The other two were confirmed safe Monday.
The crested ibis (scientific name Nipponia nippon) is registered as a special Japanese natural treasure. The last true Japanese crested ibis, a female named Kin, died in October 2003. Japan has been trying to reintroduce the species into the wild since 2008, after successfully getting a pair received from China in 1999 to breed in captivity. All of the crested ibises in Japan now are Chinese birds ortheir offspring, and a total of 76 have been released since September 2008.
Their breeding period runs from February to June and peaks in early April. A female typically lays about four eggs per season, and both adults take turns caring for them for about 28 days.
In 2010, the ministry confirmed that some released ibises had laid an egg, but an actual hatching hadn’t been confirmed until this month. Experts believe this is because infertile eggs are laid more often by birds in the wild than in captivity, and incubation is often halted due to food shortages.
The birds are also very wary and tend to abort incubation if they are stressed. In the past, some eggs fell out of the nests and others were eaten by crows.
The Japanese crested ibis once inhabited most parts of Japan, but the population fell dramatically after the Meiji Era (1868-1912) because they were overhunted for their beautiful feathers and because of environmental degradation and agricultural chemicals ruined their homes and food supply.