Following on from the last report, ZSL London Zoo keeper Claire McSweeney updates us on the first harvest of Mauritius kestrel eggs.
I’m standing in the kestrel hand-rearing room, looking around at all the ticking and whirring equipment and fussing like a mother hen trying to make sure everything is working as it should. In just a few minutes, I’ll be leaving for one of the MWF field stations on the east coast of Mauritius and when I return it will be with a portable incubator full of kestrel eggs!
With me on ‘team kestrel’ is one of the Mauritian staff at the aviaries, Virginie. Two days after I arrived in Mauritius we were both lucky enough to travel to the Ferney Valley field station where we spent the night, ready for egg harvesting the next morning. The field station is set on the edge of the Bambous mountain range and acts as the MWF field team’s base from which they monitor kestrel nest sites. Early Wednesday morning, we set out to visit the kestrel nest boxes having gathered everything needed for harvesting. It was quite a bumpy ride along the tracks but it was very much worth being out in the hills as along the way we suddenly came upon a pair of adult kestrels having a dust bath on the side of the trail. I wasn’t quick enough with my camera, although to be honest I was so busy watching them I’m not sure if I even thought about it.
When we arrived back, the eggs were transferred from the portable incubator into one of our primed and ready incubators in the kestrel room and allowed to settle for a few hours. Later in the day Virgine and I started to process the eggs. The first step was to give them a quick wash to ensure there weren’t any large amounts of contaminates on the shell; a very important process as the growing embryo is pretty defenceless against any invading bacteria. We went on to weigh each egg and also to measure the length and breadth. This data is important as it allows us to make a few decisions about how to manage the environment in the incubator to ensure the egg hatches. The final task in processing the eggs, and the most exciting by far, is to candle them. Candling is a process by which you shine a bright light through the egg and in most cases you can see whether or not the egg is fertile. Out of the 10, seven were fertile and one unfortunately was fertile but the embryo had died at an early stage of incubation.
The next day the field team had got the portable incubators back up and running and brought another 11 eggs from three clutches to the aviaries. Five of these were fertile and joined the other six to bring a total of 11 fertile eggs from the first harvesting period. The first eggs were due to hatch around the 22nd so our job until then was to settle in and wait, making sure everything was running smoothly and ready for the arrival of our first chicks.
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