new mangrove finch chick charles darwin research station

A newly hatched mangrove finch chick is fed by hand at the Charles Darwin Research Station. The finch is one of the world’s most endangered bird species.

The future is looking slightly brighter for one of the world’s most endangered birds after the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) announced last week that it is once again rearing mangrove finch chicks in captivity.

30 mangrove finch eggs were collected at Playa Tortuga Negra on Isabela Island between February 3rd and March 3rd of this year. The eggs were transported 78 miles by boat to the artificial incubation and captive rearing facility at the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS). The CDRS is the operating arm of the CDF and is located in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. The first of the eggs have now hatched and the chicks are being cared for by the CDRS’s Mangrove Finch Project Team.

The mangrove finch, the rarest of Darwin’s famed finches, has an estimated population of 80 individuals, with just 20 breeding pairs. The finches, which are now only found exclusively within two tiny ranges on Isabela Island, have been hit hard by Philornis downsi, an invasive parasitic fly species whose larvae feed upon nestlings. Thanks to Philornis, the estimated mortality rate for finch chicks in the wild is around 95%.

The Mangrove Finch Project Team made international news in 2014 when it successfully hatched and raised 15 captive chicks before releasing them back into the wild. Since there is no way to protect wild finch nestlings from Philornis, the captive rearing and release strategy offers young birds a ‘head start’ on survival and may be the only hope for saving the species.

According to the CDF, the latest batch of eggs began hatching about two weeks ago. The chicks are fed 15 times a day on a diet of “scrambled egg and papaya, introduced wasp larvae, moth innards and passerine pellets.”

The chicks will be released back into the wild once they have fledged and can feed on their own.