Image: Kakapo
The newborns push the population of the owl-like Kakapo, perched here in a tree, to 91.
updated 3/31/2008 1:23:33 PM ET 2008-03-31T17:23:33

A species of flightless parrot edged back from extinction with the hatching of five new chicks in New Zealand in recent weeks and two more on the way, officials said Monday.

The latest births of owl-like kakapos in southern New Zealand brought the population of the rare bird to just 91, said Emma Neill, a senior official of a Department of Conservation program to save the parrot.

Neill said even a small lift in numbers was "awesome," especially because the birds only breed every few years.

The kakapo is an owl-like nocturnal parrot with finely blotched yellow-green plumage, a large gray beak, short legs, large feet, and relatively short wings and tail. The bird lost the ability to fly as it evolved because there were no ground level predators in the New Zealand environment to threaten the species.

Polynesian and European colonization that began several hundred years ago introduced predators such as cats and rats that wiped out most of the kakapo. Surviving kakapos are now Rarely seen creatureskept on small, predator-free offshore islands.

Neill said all the kakapo eggs this year proved fertile, and two more birds are due to hatch within weeks on Whenua Hou, a small island off southern New Zealand.

Four chicks were bred in the last breeding season in 2005, when the fertility rate was just 58 percent.

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