SADO ISLAND, Niigata Prefecture--Scientists released video clips on May 25 of a crested ibis chick in the wild making its first flight from its nest, the first confirmation of such an event in Japan in 38 years.
The video, released by the Environment Ministry, shows the chick flying from the nest to a branch 40 centimeters away and returning 30 minutes later, a repeat of its maiden voyage earlier in the day.
Whether the crested ibis chicks will be able to survive in the wild depends on efforts to sustain their feeding grounds here and their ability to avoid predators, such as northern goshawks and martens, experts say.
The venturous chick is one of three confirmed hatched late last month. They were born to a 3-year-old male and 2-year-old female released into the wild through controlled breeding on the island. The parents are offspring of crested ibises presented to Japan by China after the last of the natural Japanese native died in 2003.
The crested ibis is designated as a national natural treasure.
The remaining two chicks are also close to leaving the nest within several days, as they were seen flapping their wings and jumping around in their nest, wildlife rangers said.
The young birds will be with their parents for several more months to receive food even after they have left the nest.
In China, statistics show that half of crested ibis chicks die within a year of leaving the nest, according to ministry officials. This is because many of them are not adept at catching food and are born with weakened immune systems.
The key to the ibis chicks’ survival on the island will be if the birds can find feeding grounds, including biotopes built specifically for them on idle rice paddies by environmental groups and farmers. However, many such sites are between mountains and do not necessarily overlap with the birds' natural habitats.
Experts say volunteers will be needed to sustain the feeding grounds as many of the local farmers are too old to undertake the arduous task of keeping the sites filled with water.
Another key will be whether the birds will be able to escape attacks from predators.
“The birds should act in a group, not separately from each other,” said Hisashi Nagata, associate professor of ornithology at Niigata University.
Experts initially feared the mating pair did not have the ability to secure food for the chicks. There have been only a few cases in which even a pair living under controlled breeding could successfully raise three chicks.
Ibis chicks require a lot of food in the 17 to 25 days after they are born, up to twice what a normal adult bird needs.
The Sado Island pair managed largely because their nest sits close to several biotopes and fallow rice fields with plenty of loaches and other food sources, according to the rangers.
The rangers also said no martens approached the birds.
“It must have been hard for a marten to see the nest as it was masked by the foliage of the cedar tree,” said Kei Osada, the ministry’s chief ranger at the wild protection center on the island.
Osada also said it would have been difficult for a marten to reach the nest because the tree’s branches were trimmed.
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